Basements, lairs, dark pitfalls – Day 11

Jernej Lorenci is an exciting Slovenian director, I have greatly enjoyed many of his performances. It was also good to rewatch Dead Man Comes for His Sweetheart, although it affected me much more intensively three years ago. The performance is built on gestures that are simple in their display yet also refined – some dramatic situations emerge from playing music together, which will then lead us through the process of how the ego that is born in love will die, perish, and transform. While other works usually speak about this matter in sophisticated details and at great length, here a piece inspired by a Slovenian folk song engages in metaphors and in the playfulness of quotation.

Wolfgang, a performance produced by the theatre from Piatra Neamț, tackles a famous story of abuse. The starting point of the performance is – and I say starting point because it is the work method of the director, Radu Afrim to rewrite the dramatic texts he uses – is a the eponymous play by a contemporary Greek playwright, Yannis Mavritsakis, about the kidnapping and almost 10-year-long captivity of the Austrian Natascha Kampusch. Unfortunately I don’t know the play but its dramatic rhetoric is obviously not documentarist, nor does it offer a factual or concrete approach and neither does the performance: it is, instead, a poetic adaptation of the case that tries to understand this mortifying and not so one-of-a-kind story (we can think of many similar ones, of the Fritzl case, for example) by reading it in the context of a consumerist society, from the point of view of loveless, dreary familial relations, communicational deficits, and the definitive deformations of the soul. The performance presents us with a world in which all players live confined, stuck in their own narrow and deformed fantasies: a set of fridges, cupboards, drawers, coffins piled onto each other create the society, while in its centre lies an old Trabant that serves as the basement, the prison of the girl.

Afrim’s performance raises many questions in me, one of them relates to its poetic tonality which, in my opinion, has the risk of levelling out or of homogenising, in a certain sense, the deformed world of the basement with the everyday normality that, here, seems similarly deformed. Though it is understandable that the poetic intention is a way to avoid oversimplification, the director himself emphasised, during the post-show talk, that the so-called theatre of opinions is not something he likes, as his job is to equally understand all characters and their motivations. Nevertheless, this poetic logic and rhetoric that, on the one hand and as per its intention, presents the human soul – that encompasses the bad and the destructive, too – by putting it into an extreme situation and, on the other hand, detaches itself from judgment, cannot, in the end, avoid the similarly questionable gestures of acquittance. By acquittance I mean that the performance ends with the feeling that each one of us, in our own ways, are to face the societal and emotional issues of freedom and restriction and in this – ontological – sense the work makes no difference between a basement and the various lairs of the characters. But in terms of power there is a huge difference between them. While the performance gives a psychologically accurate picture of how such a power relationship works (Wolfgang alternately abuses and cares for the child-teenager Fabiana, who alternately cooperates and resists, connects and rejects), I feel that it does not reflect on the fact that the emotions that are born in such a defenceless situation probably cannot be described with the terms that we otherwise use with regards to our relationships of love.