Fresh from filming episodes of the German crime series Tatort and the film adaption of Arthur Miller’s The Performance, Austro-Australian actor, Maxi Blaha has returned to The Street Theatre to premiere the English translation of her latest one-woman show, Mariedl, Selfies with a Giantess.
Discovered in a small village in the Tyrol Alps, Maria Fassnauer (Mariedl), a woman afflicted by Gigantism, was for six years exhibited in theatres across Europe, at the Brussels World Fair and in the Hippodromes of London and Manchester as the tallest woman ever seen.
A fascinating feature of Mariedl’s story is that during her touring she was courted by a similarly afflicted man from Wagga Wagga, who had dreams of siring giant children.
Mariedl’s story however is certainly not tragic. It appears that she was a shrewd business woman. Although her parents had negotiated a lucrative contract for her services, insisting that Mariedl be accompanied throughout her touring by her younger sister, Rosa, Mariedl augmented her contracted fee with sponsorship deals and hard work which involved standing for hours posing and selling postcards of herself.
Mariedl was also aware of the power of publicity. So when Australian giant, Clive Darril from Wagga Wagga made his infamous marriage proposal in front of the press, Mariedl suspected that he was probably an opportunist so had little compunction about turning him down, also making sure there were plenty of press present.
Mariedl appeared before Royalty and as her fame spread made a huge sum of money which she gave to her parents and a variety of charities. Deeply religious, Mariedl had planned to become a nun after she finished touring, but died at the age of 38, before that ambition could be achieved.
In a beguiling performance, Blaha conjured up Mariedl’s 2.42 metres height by standing on a raised platform, her lavishly embroidered Tyrolean costume echoing Mariedl’s insistence on always wearing a traditional peasant costume together with a tall hat to make her look taller, when being exhibited.
As the audience entered the theatre, Blaha as Mariedl on exhibition, greeted them with “Come one, come all, come and see Mariedl, the giant woman of the Tyrol” – each time repeating her statistics in indication of the monotony of Mariedl’s existence.
In a clever twist of ambiguity she invited the audience to take selfies on their cellphones, and to message in their questions; a reference to Mariedl’s habit of selling postcards. Each ping of her own phone providing the opportunity to demonstrate the repetitive, inane and often very personal questions Mariedl had to endure every day.
Blaha’s superbly nuanced monologue allowed the audience to sense the loneliness behind Mariedl’s pride in honouring her commitment despite not being allowed to be seen in public in order to maintain the curiosity of the public.
She encouraged them to revel in her mischievousness when relating her response to Clive Darril’s courting, her curiosity when describing some of her fellow freaks, and her deep love of family and nature, both of which she deeply missed while on tour.
Integral to the success of Blaha’s performance was the superb accompaniment of harpist, Ursula Fatton, who miraculously conjured up fair grounds, grand ballrooms, moments of dread and elation to enhance the story-telling, before finally gilding the one song which provided a perfect ending for the show, a wistful rendition by Blaha, of the Duke Ellington song, In My Solitude.
Mariedl, Selfies with a Giantess
The Street Theatre, 15 Childers Street, Canberra City West
Performance: Friday 24 November 2023
Season continues to 26 November 2023
Information and Bookings: www.thestreet.org.au
The Butterfly Club, 5 Carson Lane, Melbourne
Season: 28 November – 2 December 2023
Information and Bookings: www.thebutterflyclub.com
Image: Maxi Blaha as Maria Fassnauer (Mariedl) – photo by Novel Photographic
Review: Bill Stephens OAM