“Limunation”, written by Dušan Kovačević, directed by Nebojša Bradić, National Theatre in Niš

Light at the End of the Tunnel

Starting from the narrative “Limunation in the Village” written by Stevan Sremac, Dušan Kovačević wrote the tragicomedy “Limunation” in 1978, with quite different meanings. Sremac’s protagonist Sreta is an anti-hero, defined by malicious caricaturalism, whose intent was the pamphlet  condemnation of political radicalism, as literary historians wrote. Thus, for Sremac, who was traditional and a “true conservative” the village of Prudelj was painted with the tones of the patriarchal, Obrenovician idyll. On the other hand, Kovačević’s village is not at all idyllic; on the contrary, it is a dead sea, far-away land stuck in hopeless primitivism and with stunted mind. As such, it is the appropriate starting point for satirical, bitter observations of our mentality and political demagogy. Director Nebojša Bradić on the scene of the National Theatre in Niš intensifies the dark meanings of Kovacević’s “Limunation”, building a bitter and grotesque comedy about the relationship of the people and the authorities. On the concrete and symbolically darkened scene, styled by the wooden fence and multi-purpose crates, extends a circus of the eternal impossibility of exiting from the dungeon of petty philistinism (set designer Nebojša Bradić, costume designer Marina Vukasović Medenica, composer Zoran Erić, stage movement Vera Obradović). In the embodiment of the reflection of such a distorted society, especially suggestive is the setting of the people, the echo of the ancient chorus. The people who almost do not speak in Kovačević’s play, in Bradić’s setting pronounce stage directions in a choir referring to their non-verbal actions.

In that way, the function of the people is over emphasized in the play, as is the question of populism. The actors representing the people, Katarina Mitić, Katarina Arsić, Uroš Milojević, and Dejan Gocić perform in an impressively sharp, rigid, and plastic manner collectively building a nightmare effect. Toothless and callous, they move menacingly in a herd, creating an impression of their collective power, but the lack of individualism, as well. In a few cases, the people are building truly impressive scenes with a tone of expressionism. For example, in scenes where they have inserted, extended hands.

We interpret them as a mark of consequences of their hard physical labour, the torture that defines their lives. They are a symbolically effective, visually strong reflection of the fact that they work from dawn to the scream of darkness “silent and putting up with the leeches in power,” as Sreta critically states. The election scene is also resolved in an expressive way by people coming to vote under masks. This stylized scene is understood as an expression of the need to conceal, the result of a deep-rooted fear of authority, power, change. The numerous ensemble of Niš Theatre brings to life Kovacević’s bitter and funny drama world in an inspired and stylized way.

Dejan Cicmilović plays with vigour teacher Sreta, a utopian and hothead whose nature is similar to that of Don Quixote who tries to enlighten the inhabitants of Prudelj, where he arrives at the beginning of the play. Aleksandar Mihailović is skilfully theatrical in shaping the character of Ćir Djordje, Sanja Krstović uses parody to present his jezebel Djizela wearing heavy make-up, and Marko Pavlovski is charmingly limp, mute servant Tašule. Dragana Jovanović plays a village joker Maksa, Sreta’s faithful companion, Aleksandar Marinković is a tragicomic Mića the officer, Miroljub Nedović is Birov, a kind of a village jester, Danilo Petrović is Purko the cop, and Dragoslav Savić is a former actor Pera Ćata who is happy to live in the past …

Slightly Gogolian in vivid and tragic descriptions of a society’s neglect and the consequences of the absence of valid authority, Bradić’s “Limunation” brings about a loud cry about the blind wandering in the dark. Admonishing in tone and meaning, the play ends optimistically, at least on the symbolic level. Although disappointed in the outcome of the mission, Sreta does not deviate from the possibility of a more rational society. In the final scene, blindfolded and in the company of Maksa, he irresistibly reminds of Shakespeare’s King Lear and his faithful fool. Just like Lear, who sees the truth only when blinded, Sreta finds a light within himself, in the depths of the darkness. This light represents a symbolic hope, a sign of the strength of individuals, prometheuses who do not give up on the road for a better world.

Ana Tasić, Politika