Příběhy obyčejného šílenství

Author: Petr Zelenka

Directed by: Tereza Růžičková

28-30 April 2005

Shadbolt Centre for the Arts, Burnaby, BC

Petr Zelenka Shows us a Mirror of Life:

Some thoughts on Pribehy obycejneho silenstvi by a commonly crazy member of the audience

First, let's listen to a conversation in an average Canadian/Czech Vancouver home on the morning after the play:

Grandmother: Marecku, did the baby sitter watch with you the nice video with animals while we were at the Divadlo Za rohem last night?

Marecek (about 6): Yea, Granny but she was crying most of the time because she said she was caught between two men. What does that mean, Granny? Did they play hockey? 

Grandmother: No dear. But it happens here and there to some people.

Marecek: And can a man be caught between two women? Maybe like Granddad?

Grandmother: Absolutely not! What gives you such ideas? Besides, Granddad is old and sick (I’ve got to measure his blood pressure right now and give him his pills) And you better be careful with your jabbering. He mustn’t get upset. 

Marecek: And why did the baby sitter say that her girlfriend wasn’t going to get paid for it?

Grandmother: Boze muj, Marecku. Co to kecas. Snez sve cornflakes. Nemas horecku? Kde je teplomer?

Granddad: (who had entered a while ago): Ja bych neco navrhnul ale uz jsem stary a uz mi nic nejde.

This conversation could go on all day. It could also include other people: neighbours, friends, friends of friends, son’s friends of son’s friends – it could continue in apartments, in elevators, in hallways.... anywhere where people try to live together and try be happy, whatever that means, and try hard and crazily doing or not doing so many things in this crazy world of ours, each in his or her crazy but quite common way............ 

In Pribehy obycejneho silenstvi all these banal, slightly crazy, everyday things are happening on stage. And whether we like it or not, we are bound to see snatches of our own behaviour, our disappointments and hopes and the various bumps on our road in life mirrored in the text. Perhaps the mirror is a little distorted, concave, exaggerated, but there it is, inescapably funny, inescapably sad, inescapably true.

Is Pribehy then a psychologically realistic play, describing our average lives? Yes, it is, in the sense mentioned above. But – more decisively – NO! The play is a histrionically choreographed, pulsating composition, fast moving and constantly gathering new energy from within itself. In it the characters, while often preoccupied with the bodies of others, struggle with their own bodies (their blood pressure, their sex drives, their various anxieties). At the same time they struggle with their fear of the unknown (a playful bed cover), they try to bring to life their dreams and sometimes even manage (the Pygmalion affair of a mannequin), they tempt chance or are tempted by it, they try to figure out the nature of love, they wonder about what is ‘real’ and what is ‘truth,’ what is ‘normal’ and what is ‘crazy’.

Throughout the brief scenes of the play they pop in and out, telephoning, pleading, drinking, pretending, cajoling, lying, creating, loving – successfully and unsuccessfully -- in a fast moving dance of life that at one moment actually does become a real dance of mingled joy and pain performed by one of the characters.

The thread of Zelenka’s play (and director Tereza Ruzickova’s light but knowing hand) holds it all together as we watch couples split and find each other again, testing and stretching the mysterious power of love in its infinite variations. With masterly ease the playwright makes us share in all this. As we sit in the audience, laughing at a delicious repartee, savouring the hilariousness of a situation – though never sliding into senseless slapstick -- we suddenly may realize that this isn’t funny at all; conversely during moments when a tragic development seems to be imminent, we suddenly feel our funny bone itching as a comic perspective wedges itself into our minds.

Such a play needs a special director and a special cast. And it got it with the Theatre Around the Corner. The detailed description that each character would deserve, is of course impossible within the limitations of a modest review like this. Zdenek Matousek is superb as the Father who, having been told just once too often that he is an Alzheimer candidate, dials a number and ‘by chance’ meets an artist who not only produces a sculpture of his head but also restores his self confidence. Karel Ruzicka as his son Petr, carrying the main and most demanding role of the play, fluctuates between pain over his (temporarily) lost girlfriend, horror before the mystery of familiar things taking on a life of their own, admiration mixed with distaste in his relationship with his friend Moucha, the tribulations of filial love, and recurrent fatigue about life in general. To mention just one example of his underplayed mastery of acting: the staggering scale of intonations with which he repeats his laconic comment “No jasne” in drastically varying contexts.

Here are the rest of the remarkable performances in alphabetical order:  Helena Charvatova as the sex bomb Kocourek, who’s had enough of it; Michal Hovjacky as the guy given to making hay while the sun shines but never really knowing what’s going on; Bronka Krejcova as the sculptress who thinks she doesn’t need to worry about reality; Lubica Parilakova as desirable Jana who calls a spade a spade, doesn’t mind a quickie in a phone booth if she needs to prove a point but can also express existential despair in a heart rending dance; Gita Schoberova as the delightfully fussy mother who is sure that everyone is sick, who preaches and teaches and needs to be needed until she herself gets a lesson of what loving and living really means; Jaroslav Tomas as Kocourek’s partner Jiri whose potency needs some help and who moves from vanity to violence; Viera Urminska metamorphosing from cleaning lady to gorgeous living mannequin; a special mention must go to Vit Suchodol whose comic talents carry him through his complex role that stretches from shades of slapstick to shades of pathos, from a facsimile Indian dance to the tenderness of friendship.

Within the dramatic wealth the playwright provides us with, one idea must be specially mentioned for it reaches back into the history of a people who have been tossed and shaken by the winds of coercive political systems: Gradually we become aware that the voice of the Father, adoringly dwelled on by the Mother and apparently a trademark of his past fame, is the voice of a news broadcaster under a regime that is too well known to be mentioned by name.

Coaxed at various occasions to give a sample of his vocal talents, the Father delivers a vacuous report from the 1970's describing the meetings and movements of the nation’s noble leaders. When the speech is repeated at intensified speed three times under different circumstances, its content has evaporated, the words no longer carry any meaning and, when heard for the third time, coming from Zdenek Matousek’s mellifluous base, become a musical tribute about beauty and love. This is not only a scintillating dramatic trick but also a profound comment on the pitfalls of language as communication.

With his usual artistic imagination Vladimir Bezruc has designed and built a stage set that, echoing the play itself, combines simplicity with complexity, lightness with heaviness, suddenly opening spaces (an elevator, another stage backstage), quickly inhabitable spaces for the fast action. The sound effects by Dan Kolda create an exciting counterpoint, sometimes supporting, at other times satirizing the action on the stage.                                    

Tereza Ruzickova, the director, deserves much more than the bouquet of roses she got on the first night of the performance. The play showed the hand of an experienced and imaginative director, opening up the possibilities of the text with a sense for the histrionics as well as the existential shadows hovering above the whole action.  All this is surprising and admirable in the case of so young a person.

The whole crew on and off the stage deserves the highest praise for this production. Had the playwright attended these performances of his play by Divadlo Za rohem, he would, I feel sure, have been more than pleased.

Dr. Marketa Goetz-Stankiewicz