Above love. I guess that is the diagnosis of the Doctor who has lost his patients, a disease in which all things lose their contours, conversations become meaningless, feelings false. Life passes.
The play from Bulgaria presents the famous Chekhov’s cherry orchard as a theatre, inverting the acting to the audience, and the audience on the stage, and presenting it directly as the estate of the characters from the eponymous drama. Naïve childhood and other important moments are shown, scattered around the stage, playing the game of catch and throwing who knows what from a rich arsenal of the comedy of the absurd. The actors are dead serious. They spread joy as they “collide on the scene,” as someone said last night.
There is no doubt that the show is trying once again to illuminate the secret of Chekhov’s long-lasting actuality from the nature of a man as homo ludens, the being of play. But the truth is the secret, the shroud, the undiscovered (aletheia), Greek philosophers thought. Without it, and without love, it is not possible to establish a world of reality. Therefore, in the end, curtains, shadows remain…To cry. Maybe. Be free and happy. Quite certainly – no. Have fun?
And then Serbia on the table, a Serb under the table, as the outcome of the new version of the “Balkan Spy” by Dušan Kovačević, directed by Tatjana Mandić Rigonat, National Theatre Belgrade. The tragedy is that it is not a tavern, but the house of Ilija Čvorović (Ljubomir Bandović), a man losing his mind, family, and even his life.
The pressure of politics, as viewed by the stage director, is current and really no longer just on the radio and newspapers, but in the stage play, introduced as a parallel reality, through the procedure of introducing news host, singer (Vanja Milačić), who not only appears on television, but also live, on the stage, all glowing and brilliant, just like the news she announces, while Danica (Nela Mihailović) struggles in the green market, serving the household with an empty refrigerator.
Added onto the “natural state” of things in Kovačević’s drama from the time of socialism, with the actualized changes and updates, simultaneously showing the unchangeable same dose of black-humour spirit, the directorial interventions are consistent, effective, very critical, especially when (new) media image starts to affect Ilija, who is even funnier with a mobile phone than with a camera in his hand, or with an AV inscription on the channel by means of which he turns on the surveillance camera in the Subtenant’s room.
Troubles begin almost immediately at the beginning, when the main, otherwise excellent actor, “forgets” that he is not be allowed in the first few scenes to use all the tragic and comic potential of his character, so when the action and his madness are to culminate, he begins to repeat himself. More troubles follow when his sister and not his brother Djura (Dušanka Stojanović Glid) join him on the stage, without a clear justification or some new level of significance, except for a mere surprise, for the sake of complications, in relation to Kovačević’s original. This actress represents Djura as culmination of what is called fake in the theatre, and so strongly disturbs the otherwise really well-formed realistic pattern of the game. The fact that there is long to be waited for until the end is an old criticism in relation to Kovačević’s texts written for actors, which Tatjana Mandić Rigonat as a dramaturge of the play did not take into account.
And finally, Ibsen, Strindberg, Bergman … Dogma. A series of fog sprayers hiding a clean, decorated world of a Western man, when viewed from outside. In the last generations, having culminated in Dogma’s poetry and the dramaturgy of blood and sperm, the authors seemed less and less psychological, and increasingly brutal…
“Festen” as a birthday party of a wealthy Helge (Dime Iliev), will be an opportunity for a reunited family to deal with the demons, because of which pater families has one member less – a suicide daughter. The sons Christian (Aleksandar Stepanuelski) and Michael (Dejan Lilić) are supports of the action, but as with Agatha Christie, the butler, the maid, and the cook have a say in everything, too.
The stage director Zoja Buzalkovska’s makes the performance current with a stylish decency, primarily by treating the space with exceptional success (the set design by the stage director and Todor Daevski), which opens the field of meaning, either by the dominant bathtub, semi-transparent curtain or emptied room. Contextually, the performance still seems remote. Pedophilia and racism in a bourgeois family, the pillar of private property, capitalism if you want, and even the country, are the themes that certainly exist here, too, and have their place as universal, but they certainly are not even close to the top list of the reflection of our anguish and troubles.
Another basic problem of otherwise a good performance (hence the higher demands) is the imbalance of the acting ensemble’s play where there is a discrepancy between the strictly controlled internal state, the gesture, the stage setting (the role of the father, the mother, Christian …), which increases the suspense and, on the other hand, unnecessarily loose, expressionist, subtly realistic underlined attitude towards characters, relations and situation, “best” represented by the acting of Dejan Lilić as Michael.