Alex Mircioi: Past, present // Personal, political – a most interesting diary entry

Romanian Journal. Sfântu Gheorghe, directed by Carmen Livia Vidu, tells the personal stories of six actors from the „Andrei Mureşanu” Theatre, mapping their process of acculturation to the town through intimate milestones. One, Daniel Rizea, went on a (successful) weight loss journey, while another,  Alexandra Ioana Costea, ran an (unsuccessful) campaign to become the manager of the theatre. One got married and divorced here (Elena Popa), another lost his father right before a première (Ion Fiscuteanu Jr.). Probably the one for whom Sfântul Gheorghe meant the most for from the beginning was Sebastian Marina, who was trying to escape a rather unhealthy pattern of behaviour in Cluj, making his coming here a cathartic experience. On the other hand, Costi Apostol thought it’s just a step in his career, not yet his home, still provisional (and continues to do so, according to what he said at the artist talk that followed).

The material was selected from hours of recorded interviews, the taking of which spanned over days and weeks. What was going to stay and what was not was entirely Vidu’s choice, despite the actors’ protests (especially Fiscuteanu Jr.’s). Moreover, the delivery had to be monotone, making them unable to trivialize the personal nature of what they are saying through jokes (again, much to Fiscuteanu Jr.’s disapproval) or transform it into a passionate monologue.

Thus the show is pretty startling at first, through the openness with which they discuss their wins and losses, the emotional response these provoked and how life continued to flow afterwards. The personal blends with the political as all the newly-arrived actors came face to face with the reality of being a minority in town, in a country where they are a majority [Sfȃntu Gheorghe has an 80% Hungarian majority population, despite being situated right in the middle of modern-day Romania. Because history]. Each of them says a few words about the ethnic interactions between the Hungarian speaking majority and how their process as artists and creators of Romanian-language cultural product changes – Elena Popa tells a story of a young (Hungarian-speaking) pupil trying to recite a Romanian poet’s work he had learned in school, of which – it turned out – he understood nothing. Each of them dodges the question of conflicts, they all acknowledge that such tensions exist but don’t go much further into explaining the situation (with a few exceptions, such as the one mentioned above).

Vidu weaves these personal stories through a collage of photo and video material – either belonging to the actors (photos of them at various stages, or of their parents), or newly created with the help of Vargyasi Levente and Vetró Baji. She’s become known for her multi-media take on theatre, going from the rather less ambitious visual style (but efficient and powerful nonetheless) of this show, to video illustrations such as the ones made for the “George Enescu” classical music festival (for Vladimir Jurowski’s concert of George Enescu’s “Oedip”).

Her anthropological probing into the Romania does not stop here, continuing with a diary of Constanţa (with an all-female cast), a few short films curated into an exhibition, and a proper, stand-alone piece (based on one of the actresses from the initial show). Both shows (Romanian Journal. Sfântu Gheorghe and Romanian Journal. Constanţa) make the point of theatre as being a sort of cultural binding agent for communities with the power to (re)build a sense of belonging to their city. The show is supposed to be a wake-up call, a way to build such a community. A community of people that share they same problems, that should work together to rid themselves of problems in the local educational system (like children being sent to the theatre for good marks, or learning by heart verses they don’t understand, making culture into homework).

Vidu’s concept chimes heavily with the Rimini Protokoll 100% series, in its use of local people for establishing a sort of cultural cartography, but Romanian Journal. Sfântu Gheorghe is more of a personal cartography (as the actors talk a great deal of their favourite spots, important places in the city and so on) that intersects with the cultural. The cast is made up of people who weren’t born here (the Constanţa instalment is made up of more of the “natives” of the city, and closer to the Rimini Protokoll (RP) method in that way), who are also professional actors.

The performative solutions also differ a lot – whereas RP looks to diversify the way it delivers information, Sfântu Gheorghe just sort of breaks up the continuous monologues through little performance-like moments connected to both the past of the actors and the specificity of the show. Luiza Zan (who did the music for the show) wrote a special song to which Alexandra Costea did a gymnastics routine, coming back to it after 20+ years, while Rizea started off the show demonstrating a few physical exercises accompanying text about his weight-loss journey.

But it’s on this axis of past versus the present that this show will get to mean the most – a chronicle about the now and the then, a diary entry talking about a specific moment in the past. The value of the show doesn’t come from the present, but in the way it will continue to age. How the bits of past-that-speaks-about-the-present and will become further and further from what actually current.

*The opinion expressed in this article does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the festival’s organisers.

*The workshop In/Between Reflex(ions) is organised by Tamási Áron Theatre, in a partnership with the Romanian Cultural Institute.