Re-enacting Communism

01.01.2015. | Panna Adorjáni

A living room in a typical apartment somewhere in Communist Eastern Europe: generic wooden bookshelves, an wooden vintage radio with a bad signal, rotary dialtelephone, a couple of armchairs and a lot of books – a lot of books will always give a Tempest away. A guy is pacing up and down behind a glass door, most probably Prospero, while inside in one of the armchairs, covered with a blanket sleeps a woman, obviously Miranda. As we enter the theatre and find our seats, we hear the sound of a storm and the main theme from Tschaikovsky’s Swan Lake playing.Oskaras Koršunovas’s Miranda at first glimpse looks like a naturalist performance, gloomy and dark, almost Chekhovian. What we will see unfold however is a singularly theatrical experience, in which afather and his heavily disabled daughter re-enact their favourite tale: Shakespeare’s The Tempest. All the roles are played by them, the woman being both Miranda and Ariel, while the father performing a whole series of characters from Prospero, Fernando, Caliban to Alonso and Gonzalo. They both already know the lines and the order of the scenes. The woman awaits impatiently for her favourite parts – the ones in which she can flirt with Fernando –, while the father diligently delivers all his roles with creative costume changes, funny interpretations and fatherly care. The Shakespearian text becomes simple and rough, as if someone had to briefly summarise the story: the whole show runs for an hour and a half and features both text that had been written especially for this performance and parts of other plays (Macbeth and King Lear to be precise). Although the surtitles feature older, canonic versions of the text, it seems (and in a post-show discussion it is confirmed) that the actors use a very new, rather raw and less poetic Lithuanian translation.

The performance Miranda – as many of Shakespeare’s plays – heavily relies on its inherent theatricality. Two actors who seemingly are quite close to each other in age play a father and a daughter, the former a bald, tall man with a shaky hand and a drinking problem, the latter a disabled grown-up woman who has serious problems withsimple tasks such as speaking or moving. These fictional characters are already very far from the actual corporeality of the performers, and the dramatic roles they will put on will be even further away. Ariel is a highly dangerous apparition (stroboscope, scary music, witch-like voice and all), Fernando is a parodied version of a metrosexual or gay man (more on that later), Caliban is a funny madman, while the father and daughter seem to be Prospero and Miranda themselves. It seems that the closed universe – that bears a heavy resemblance to the claustrophobia of the states behind the Iron Curtain –results in personalities that are as closed and tormented as the system they are a part of. As if with the closing of the world, the mind also closes into itself. A rather simple parallel that is the premise of the performance but that will not lead anywhere. The play is re-enacted, the events become even darker and drier, whilethe scenes initially featuring love and companionship here are stern and short. The only time any real affection is expressed is between the daughter and the father is whentheysometimes touch their fingertips as a sign of attachment and togetherness or when they provoke each other as kids do. We see their struggle with the world that surrounds them, the fates they have been given and the problems they have to face on a daily basis. The re-enactment seems to be the father’s impossible trial to save his daughter from forever closing into her body and mind. At the end of the performance, we see him collapse tiredly in the armchair thathis daughter normally would use. As if they changed places, he now becomes the onewho is incapacitated. The Swan Lake theme will play once more,the glass door opens, behind it in full White Swan ballerina attirewe see the daughter dancing. After a short choreography, the scene instantly turns black and the phone starts ringing. The phone that – alongside the old broken radio – seems to be their only link to an outside world. If such a world actually exists. We will never find out, because there is no one left to pick up the phone and answer.

A clear, simple structure that can be easily read and interpreted, this performance seemed to provoke extreme reactions. The image of a closed down universe is instantly recognised by the Romanian-Hungarian audience, some members of the audience even confessing tohowdisturbing it was to watch the performance and how it made them cry. Although I recognised its merits, the precision it was made with, the clarity and beauty in its structure and the impressive energy and skills of the two actors, I found the show rushed and flat and even superficial in tackling the issues it represented. Although it had an atypical setting and dramaturgy, in every other aspect it was just another Tempest, both in itschoice of metaphors and the reinterpretation of the original text. The means the director chose to show the claustrophobia with I also found problematic. I wonder whether it is ok to use disability to create reactions – we all remember scenes of either film or theatre featuringcrying, screaming patients of mental hospitals. These are meant to portray madness or to scare us and make us feel good about ourselves –they are meant to reassure us that we are not like that. The disabled body becomes a tool, a human stroboscope that serves the mere function to create an effect: a very special space for the Other, be it another time, another space or another person. This other could well be, for example, a metrosexual/homosexual. I could not decide which one it was supposed to be, but if it served to show that in this demented world love is not possible, then it might have been the latter: Fernando, the only love of Miranda, a gay man who is shown to be superficial and flamboyant, a man who wears a scarf and sunglasses and makes rather camp gestures.

Portraying disablities, diseases, disorders and differences as direct results of an oppressive systemis a great misunderstanding of what otherness means. Yes, one might become depressed and an alcoholic because because of the claustration of the Communist regime but surely dictatorships do not cause advanced disability or homosexuality.The presumption seems to be that oppressive political systemsareapocalyptic: they destroy us both physically and sexually. One should then think that sexual minorities are also unhealthy disorders produced by the regime. The mode of action in this performance only works if we as spectators watch it as if we had normal bodies and normal mental hygiene. If one rejects this point of view – maybe because they themselves are disabled, gay, alcoholic or depressed –, the performance becomes incomprehensible: an exhausting mockery of the above-mentioned states. The performanceworkssolely as a contrast to abnormality, hence it is heavily based on a dichotomous system that on the one hand statesthat there exists a default (normal) and its opposite (abnormal)existence, on the other hand it assumes that an intact, perfect state pre-existswhich is thendeviated. We know both from genetics, neuroscience,psychologyand – since this is theatre after all – Judith Butler that this is not a maintainable truth; it is rather an ideological preconcept that ironically is synonymous with the political ideology the performance tries to re-evaluate and criticise.

One thing is to throw in threevery different and very contrastinghuman lives in one singular performance and even if it worked, there is not enough time and space for these characters to deepen or become complex.Closing them into one improvised space creates an unbelievably messy and superficial environment, one that is designed merely to create effects, torecreate fear, the feeling of claustrophobia and of going mad. It might evoke a certain time (one that I was not a part of) but it does not evoke much else. It recreates the feeling of communism without reflecting on it:a sort of catastrophe tourism into a frightening past.


MARCH 18-31 | 2015

Sfântu Gheorghe | Romania
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Open discussion | Miranda