Mr. Dead & Mrs. Free's Cafe, an installation by Squat Theatre as part of a group show at PS 1, August 1982. (CATALOGUE PAGE)

photo (1982): Peter Berg (as the drummer), Klara Palotai (as the waitress)

text by Stephan Balint in the exhibition's catalogue titled "Bold Head Line"

Squat Theatre's Mr. Dead & Mrs. Free

In the hot Berlin summer of 1923 the Kaffeehaus zum Herr Tod und Frau Frei was crowded by guests. After midnight a young American navy officer disappeared in the bathroom with his dancepartner, Klara Berg, a pretty waitress from Kreuzberg. They closed the door from inside and it was only two hours later that the excited but patient patrons found both of them on the floor.

They saved the life of the young man, but the German girl was already dead. The investigating police closed the place for two days and in a week everybody forgot about it except the navy officer who in 1941 made a movie titled Mr. Dead & Mrs. Free. He of course erased all the biographical elements from the film which was packed with plots and passion and at the end the jealous waitress committed a spectacular suicide with a knife.

In 1981 a theatre group, riding on the interest on a new wave of interest on the past, had a play in mid-town Manhattan running for almost half a year with the same title Mr. Dead & Mrs. Free but on a Friday night show in the spring of 1982, for unknown reasons, the actress who played the unlucky waitress in the show, plunged the flaming shish kebab so deeply in her belly (a new variation of the original event) that she died on the scene loosing too much blood before the ambulance arrived. Some of the confused spectators could not even realize that what happened really belonged to the show. The producers of the play exploiting the headlines of the scandal, opened a new place in Long Island on April 4, 1982, with the unchanged and appealing title Mr. Dead & Mrs. Free's Cafe.