Monday, March 28, 2005

Theater Review

Note: This page is but the daily post for the Being Had Blog.
For a full index of the whole site, please click here to navigate back to the HOMEPAGE

Got to go to our Dom Kultura theater yesterday. That is always a treat. I never knew this was a general deal but apparently March 27th is a day of the theatre here in Belarus. Perhaps this has something to do with the official atheism of the former Soviet Union- I mean the date pretty much always is or is near to Easter or Passover and this would be a non-religious community thing that people could do. They were pretty good about inventing traditions like that. But for me this works out pretty good because it means a trip to the theatre on my birthday.

The show was called Ostarozhna Zhenshina (Beware of Women. The setting was an artist's studio in Paris and concerned an painter who is entangled with three women at the same time. The first a young are student, the second a rather tough talking bar girl and the third a wealthy older women who finds it rather impossible to control herself in any fashion. And of course our artist gets caught-out by all three at the same time and bedlem follows. The women tie him to a chair and establish a drunken court to try him for his actions and the howling about who is using who is generally what the play is about.

There were a few cool moments and a couple of nice quips, but all inn all and as usual for the Dom Kultura theater, I thought that the play was thoroughly worth the price of its one dollar admission.

If I have a specific complaint about this theatre, and you must understand that I have many, it is simply that they don’t really work. I understand the inside politics because I dealt with them over the production of the Russian language play I wrote called Pod Kablukom (this translates to Under the Heel – I have both the English and the Russian versions Blogged, just click on titles to see that particular version). This was back in 2003 and the full story is another tail for the second book.

But in a nutshell: When I was first here in Belarus in the spring of 2002I begun working on a Russian language play for this theater. About 30% of the text was already in Russian when what happened in Poland nhappened. I had to finish the text of Pod Kablukopmin English and do the translating and editing over the net rather than as a sit down deal with my Belarussian friends as intended. Because of this, the work stretched out for a long time. However, after the play was finally laid on the desk of the theatre, it not only won the ‘new work’ contest they were sponsoring, but was also immediately accepted for production by the theatre. You have to imagine how happy I was to have this happen.

But then they just didn’t do it and I never found out exactly why until I finally got to return in April of 2003.

What had happened was that they started, ran into a problem or two, not huge problems but problems and had come to the bookstore where she worked to ask Tatyana what the story was about me. Tatyana’s name is listed as being one of the three special assistants to the play. Tatyana told them I was an American but that I was in Poland and could not at the moment return. This information seemed to get straight into the core of their collective consciousness and immediately the theatre changed its attitude towards Pod Kablukom from one of wanting a new direction for their theatre (my intention when I wrote the play for them) to monetary exploitation. All of a sudden they needed money from me to play the play. And of course as with all corrupt workers, sensing a chance to gouge a client, the play was stopped, ostensibly because of technical problems about finding someone to do the part of Robert in English. This problem apparently though could also be solved with the addition of a couple of hundred dollars to help things along.

I was disgusted. When I finally got back in the spring of 2003, the first thing I did was to go to the theatre and ask about what had happened. There were a coyuple f meetings and for about a month it looked as though I had got them back into doing the play again and that the show was going to be a go. Well that was what it looked like but in the end all they were really doing was trying to find a way to wrestle some money from me. I was killing myself trying to move things along but there was not a decent day of work put in by anyone and after one final insult (the theatre decided that they would not pay the actors- that job was to fall on me), I realized that it was impossible to go on and walked. I never went back.

But it was more than this one piece of personal corruption that made me ill. I was even more disgusted by how corrupt this theatre was in general from the inside. I’ll give you artist’s egos and all, but these folks are extreme in the lack of work ethic. Just horrible. And last night’s play was yet another example of this. The work was uneven. There were great gaps in the dialogue and no fluidity at all between the players. Too much time taken to deliver certain lines, too much sawing of the arms in the air, as Shakespeare would have advised against, the third act (The drunken kangaroo court) dragged it ass and could have made its point much better if it utilized only 60% of the script. At best, the performance would have to be gauged as an early dress rehearsal, or even as a run through for the techs. And this is as it always is with the Dom Kultura players.

In my opinion, the best reason for the theater’s incompetence is simply this: They just don’t play enough plays. They're just not working at their supposed craft, they are not trying. Now this is not a repertory theater, it is a state entity and though they have the right to perform more often, they choose to do the absolute minimum. And this is why we only get from them about one or two plays a year and results of this lack of experience can be seen in the faces of the actors, in their dramatic choices and in the overall timing. They are just not smooth because they never practice enough to become smooth. The logic here is no different from that of a doctor: If he isn’t practicing, he is killing people and that is exactly what this theatre does pretty much every time. I am sorry of this is harsh, but I am simply just not sympathetic with them anymore anymore, I cannot congratulate failure time after time.

I think I decided to write Pod Kablukom for this theatre after seeing Mama Klava and thinking that I could present a local work of art that would speak intelligently to both the theater and its audience. I guess in doing so, I was thinking of bringing about a change for the better, new ideas, a new honest. But this never happened, and I feel now that the whole deal is simply self defeating. The whole town brings this on themselves, heads planted firmly the sand, avoiding reality at all costs and shielding themselves with their depression over the economic situation against even the possibility of being touched.

So last night I came and went quickly as I always do after Dom Kultura shows. I shook a few hands at the door but after I didn’t stay for the party. Im mean, we had to get beack for Anya, but more to the point, I had nothing to say to them. And their shows still have nothing to say to me.

Back to the dacha for next time. And actually I am back to the dacha myself today or tomorrow, so if there is a gap, you know why.