E.L. Karhu (b. 1982) is a poet of the stage. She writes plays that are clear and crystallized in their language and theatricality, yet full of life. Karhu asks us what is madness and what is sanity, how one can live ethically in their time and community, and what is an individual person’s responsibility for the world. Her works are simultaneously challenging and inspiring for their performers and avoid simplistic interpretations.
Karhu has studied at Theatre Academy in Helsinki and at Hochschule für Schauspielkunst Ernst Busch in Berlin. Her play Kuokkavieraat (On the Grace of Officials, 2007) is a dark comedy about individuals and the system, set amongst asylum seekers and officials. Leipäjonoballadi (Bread Line Ballad, 2008) takes an absurdist approach to poverty and hunger. Valitut (Chosen, 2009) is a triptych about the desire to make to world a better place, told through three generations. kuka tahansa meistä -dokumentti (Any One of Us, 2013) tells the story of an individual falling outside of time. Prinsessa Hamlet (Princess Hamlet, 2016) takes Shakespeare’s play as its starting point to examine insanity, womanhood, loss and remebrance, whereas Eriopis (2020) approaches pain and media narratives through the myth of Medea.
E.L. Karhu's German language rights are handled by Rowohlt Verlag. Her Scandinavian rights are handled by Colombine Teaterförlag.
On the Grace of Officials (Kuokkavieraat, 2007)
2 F, 4 M , an adult, a child, a chorus
A lawyer starts his work at an asylum seeker detention centre. He finds himself a purpose, to rescue A Woman Who Has Lost Everyone. The demands of humanity and compassion collide with the laws of bureaucracy. Can an official act according the rules and policies when the clients bring all the dead and tortured people to his consciousness? What is the difference between law and justice?
On the Grace of the Officials is a dark comedy that shows how the rules holding a civilized society together turn into kafkaesque absurdity when they meet an unfathomable tragedy. The story is narrated by explorer and refugee activist Nansen, who shows us how the cycle of violence, exile and xenophobia keeps repeating itself throughout history.
The play has been translated into English and French.
Bread Line Ballad (Leipäjonoballadi, 2009)
What is hidden behind the word ”poverty”? Shame, suspicion, uncertainty, apathy and hunger. A bread line is a meeting point of hundreds of individual stories and destinies. The wild cavalcade shows us a family struggling with the demands of everyday life, a man enlightened against his will, a late-rising woman who hasn’t understood her situation yet, and Saint Francis of Assisi, who preaches voluntary poverty. The short flashes form a kaleidoscope-like picture of the corrosive effect of poverty on the human body and mind, and eventually on the society itself. Bread Line Ballad blends absurd and realism in a darkly funny and wildly imaginative way.
The play has been translated into English, French and German. It has been produced by Theater Blaue Maus in Munich.
Chosen (Valitut, 2009)
Several possible castings
A missionary family moving to Africa. Two sisters, both doctors, one running a private hospital, the other haunted by memories of crisis areas. A young girl craving knowledge and a larger purpose. These stories form a triptych about calling, faith and making the world a better place. The daily battle against cynicism, frustration and apathy is consuming, but is still the only hope for better. But an unwavering faith in your cause can also cut the last remaining human bonds. There are no miracle cures, one must simply keep going on.
The play has been translated into English, German, Russian and Slovak.
Anyone of Us (kuka tahansa meistä -dokumentti, 2012)
Several possible castings.
What if one day, without warning, you were to fall outside of time? Whoosh. It could happen any time, to anybody. Our protagonist is in a space where understanding and logic aren’t enough to help. Can one return to reality? And should one succeed, is reality still what it used to be? E.L. Karhu’s play breaks the limits of theatre and reality in a simultaneously philosophical and playful way. It stretches the concept of character and story and gives a beautiful, touching and funny form to the questions of life and death.
The play has been translated into German, Swedish and Czech.
Princess Hamlet (Prinsessa Hamlet, 2017)
3 F, 5 M
“We remember those princesses who kill themselves, who leave / on time, / forcefully, / go down in flames. / The rest /they are nothing but women / who weren’t capable of living / no one remembers them, they are / erased by wind and sand from the pages of history until no trace remains. / This will not happen to me.”
Princess Hamlet wants to be remembered in history books, but a woman must go mad for that to be possible. Power, fame and gender – those are the ingredients of a great psychosis, a terror that shoves its hand in your throat and clenches into a fist. A difficult princess must be hidden away, to be prevented from ruining the facade.
From Shakespeare’s play, E.L. Karhu paints a ferocious study of rebellion, the romanticizing of madness and the stories we tell about men and women. It is a dazzling and vibrant, theatrically rewarding play that keeps resisting definitive interpretations.
The play has been translated into English, Swedish, German and Czech. It has been produced at Schauspiel Leipzig.
Eriopis - Medea's Survivor Daughter Tells All (Eriopis - Medeian selviytyjätytär kertoo kaiken, 2020)
The myth of Medea has shaken people for millennia. The story of a filicidal mother has been re-interpreted again and again through a variety of artforms, without it ever been exhausted. Now E.L. Karhu approaches the myth from a new, startling angle: the viewpoint of a survivor, one left behind. After her mother and brothers disappear, Eriopis, the daughter of an absent father Jason and a neglecting mother Medea, has to manage on her own. But is she even now able to tell her own story or will others tell it for her? The press and the television feed on the tragedy for their own narratives, but does Eriopis have a voice of her own at all?
This shattering and passionate play lives simultaneously in eternal archetypes and today's media world bursting with stimuli. It is a poetic and carnal dive into the mind of a suffering human being.
The play has been translated into English and German. It had its world premiere at Schauspiel Leipzig in 2020.