Blesok no. 86, September-October, 2012
Aspects of a Dialogical Study of Macedonian and Croatian Drama
I found the incentive for this study in the setting up of a dialogical exchange between two anthologies, which were published as the result of the collaborative efforts between Borislav Pavlovski, a Professor at the Faculty of Philosophy at the University of Zagreb, Jelena Lužina, a Professor at the Faculty of Dramatic Arts in Skopje, Sanja Nikčević, a renowned Croatian theatrologist, and Venko Andonovski, a writer and Professor of Croatian literature at the Faculty of Philology in Skopje. Namely, The Anthology of New Macedonian Drama, which, translated and edited into Croatian by Borislav Pavlovski, was published in 2000 as part of the “Mansioni” edition of the Croatian ITI-UNESCO Center, as well as The Anthology of Contemporary Croatian Drama, which was edited by Sanja Nikichevic and translated by Venko Andonovski, and thus published in 2002 by FDU, in Skopje. It is without a doubt that these two anthologies have abridged the decade-long period of silence, of a certain mutual denial between the two cultures, with regards to the unfavorability of the given social (mis)dealings.
Pavlovski’s anthology introduced the Croatian readership to the plays of Venko Andonovski, Dejan Dukovski, Trajče Kacarov, Žanina Mirčevska, Saško Nasev and Jugoslav Petrovski, whereas Nikčević’s anthology presented to the Macedonian public the names of Miro Gavran, Asja Srnec, Pavo Marinković, Mate Matišić, Lada Kaštelan and Ivan Vidić. The two anthologies mark the trajectory of the new playwrights of the Macedonian, i.e., the Croatian cultural scene during the last decade of the past century.
My encounters, in the anthology edited by Nikčević, with the plays of Srnec (Dead Wedding, 1990), Kaštelan (The Last Link of the Chain, 1995) and Vidić (Chicken Pox, 1996), as well as the somewhat later encounter with the play A Home of Rain by Marinković (who in Nikčević’s anthology is represented by another one of his plays, Filip Octet and the Magic Trumpet), in particular the dramatic opus of Vidić (Grandma’s Heart, Octopussy, Big White Rabbit), got me to consider the trends which emerge in the new Croatian drama, which in turn, partake on the prospect of depicting social drama through the prism of family drama. Hence, almost on its own accord came the need to examine, comparatively, the traits that this genre holds, on the one hand within Croatian, and on the other, within the new Macedonian drama, while taking into account those Macedonian playwrights which have been represented through Pavlovski’s anthology.
A favorite of directors, dramaturges and critics, namely, of the majority of the aforementioned colleagues and teachers, henceforth like-minded thinkers, when it comes to the vital questions concerning drama and the theatre, Vidić, who has remained an independent author and a somewhat unadjusted “freelancer”, quite easily and with equal frequency, reaches the stages of the Croatian National Theatres in Zagreb and Rijeka, through the Drama Theater Gavela, all the way to the Theatre ITD and the Zagreb Youth Theatre. Yet he isn’t able to draw in the crowds, as most of the other Croatian dramatists, who have failed to win over even the members of their own generations outside those affiliated with the theatre. (As far as the older generations are concerned, at least here, they have never paid due respect to the notion that the youth have valuable things to say, that it is to say, that it’s worth their while to listen to those words). (Senker, 2005: 45).
But permit me to return to the arguments Darko Lukić employs so as to single Vidić out from the rest of the playwrights of his generation, who, at least in Lukić’s view, are better positioned on the international theatrical stages. The specifically Croatian problems of the given social reality, the so-called “hidden treasure/s of the local”, as found in the dramatic works of Vidić, are traced by Lukić mostly through the resonance of the post-war trauma of the Croatian society heard through the prism of the little, insignificant man from the margins, from the periphery of society. Basically, Lukić ascertains that “it refers to those people who use the war as an excuse for their own disjointedness, and as such are simply marginalized by society” (2005: 37, like the Father in Octopussy, but also several characters in the play Big White Rabbit, amongst which we also find the character of the Father).
Vidić deals with the fragments of the war events thus jammed inside the seemingly ordinary and normal worlds and lives of anonymous and simple people who by no account whatsoever stand as the representative participants of any grand, national, let alone historical, processes. (Lukić, 2005: 37).
On this occasion alone, I would leave out the argumentation for/against the positioning of Vidić’s plays as political, social or family-oriented; as a matter of fact, when dealing with the Croatian reception of his plays, this has already been undertaken by Senker, using the example of the play Big White Rabbit. At the same time, Senker gives a summary of the various readings of the Croatian male critics vis-à-vis the female ones, while tracing his own reading of this play by Vidić as a family one. I’d rather, instead, emphasize that the very same conclusions may be drawn when examining, too, the other plays in Vidić’s opus, even considering the play Chicken Pox (1996) which predates Grandma’s Heart (1999), Octopussy (2001) and Big White Rabbit (2002), and which, most often, is perceived by the Croatian critical public as a social play about the young population. Namely, in Vidić’s Chicken Pox we come across the motifs/icons of a family drama, which he later develops further, taking into account the resonance of the post-war trauma of Croatian society, in Grandma’s Heart and in Big White Rabbit. I’ll illustrate this later on, also, along the lines of the motifs/icons of Macedonian drama. First and foremost, however, I’d like to point out that the same dilemmas and varied stances, when interpreting along the lines of the political, social and familial, are possible also, when speaking of the strict genre categorization of the plays by the Macedonian writers, that is to say, Stefanovski’s Wild Flesh and Hi-Fi (which, nonetheless, on this occasion will be set aside, since I intend to present a generational overview of the commonalities between Macedonian and Croatian drama), then Sashko Nasev’s plays Sin or Spritzer and Positive Thinking, as well as the play A Mutiny in the Nursing Home by Venko Andonovski. The dilemma over the span of the political, then the social, all the way to the familial drama – as seen through the already mentioned Macedonian plays, as well as by using the example of Marinković’s A Home of Rain, Kaštelan’s The Last Link in the Chain and Vidić’s dramatic opus – stems from the fact that in all of them the family drama is rendered through the prism of the social, i.e., the family drama is represented as social drama.
Briefly, I’d like to point out the segments which complicate the possibility of viewing the aforementioned plays as examples of family drama. Simply put, things are complicated in those instances when the war iconography infiltrates the dramatically depicted worlds. This is especially evident in the example of the plays by Vidić (Chicken Pox in comparison to the later works) and those by Nacev (Sin or Spritzer, 1992, vis-à-vis the 1997’s Positive Thinking). In the plays by the two dramatists, the focus of the plot is centered on the marginalized man. In terms of Nacev’s plays, in Sin or Spritzer, the basis of the plotline contains the ancient tragic motif of incest, here disseminated through the purview of the urbane and locally recognizable provincial social margins. In the case of Positive Thinking – set inside the very same locally recognizable social margins – we get to encounter also the war iconography, which follows the aftermath of the break-up of the Yugoslav socialist federation, thus it seems no longer possible to classify, without question, this play as a family one. The arguments, which nonetheless could stand in support of such a claim, would consist of the following: the entire plot of the dramatic action is filtered through the purview of the problem of family. The play is riddled by the problems the young lovers, Bato and Ida, face, namely, Ida’s unplanned pregnancy. In regards to the said unplanned pregnancy, there is also the question of the generational conflict: Bato’s parents understand it within the context of traditional values (to be followed by a marriage and the start of family life) while Bato’s reluctance to accept the traditional order keeps on resounding off through the refrain “There’s going to be a war!”. This line of Bato’s, in the various contexts of its repetition, becomes a refrain of his own justification for all of the aspects of his reluctance, impassivity in front of the new challenges time places in front of him, but also in terms of the crisis in his love relationship with Ida – depicted as a constant starting into the TV screen, eating bread and mayo, and getting fatter. Next to Bato’s impassivity, a student of French literature, as a binary opposition, his peer’s, Cane’s, senseless and maniacal activism gets juxtaposed, who forsakes his post in the traffic police so as to enlist as a volunteer in the Bosnian war.
CANE: I can’t anymore, Zhleb, I can’t take it anymore! Neither war nor peace, fuck it! I became a cop because of Rambo, and not for the shitty pay, fucking shit! This way I’d know at least, in Bosnia, with a Kalashnikov, fighting for our cause, shooting up! Maybe I’d get laid too!
ŽLEB: (Hugging him) Tell me which side is ours!
CANE: Them man! Our own one! (Nasev, Positive Thinking, 2000: 267).
I’d like to mention that the disoriented violence which Cane exhibits in the public realm of action (the frontlines, which are not otherwise depicted) is later transferred into the realm of private and the familial, depicted through the violence he exacts onto his uncle, Žleb. With that, Bato’s binary oppositional standing in this context is seemingly black/white. Bato, through the self-centeredness of his own reluctance, to a degree, resembles Jurica from Vidić’s Big White Rabbit, who talks about his own simulated madness while facing the draft, starting with his seemingly pacifist proclamation: “I would never go to war. Not even as part of an army.”, which further on reveals the true nature of his self-centeredness, which Senker, for example, proclaims as not in the least bit gentler than the hunter’s cruelty of Lukša (Senker, 2004: 52). However, the character of Jurica ought to be, rather productively, compared to the character of Stevo in the play A Mutiny in a Nursing Home by Venko Andonovski. In this play, in regards to the war and warfare, a binary opposition is set between Stevo and his grandfather, Kasapot [translator’s note: in English, ‘The Butcher’], whose blood-soaked hands are suggested by the very name this character adorns:
STEVO: I dodged the draft. I don’t want to serve.
KASAP: (Facing him) You don’t want to serve?! You don’t want to join the army?! Hey, are you even a man?
STEVO: No, I am not, grandpa. I am still young.
KASAP: When he was your age, Goce Delchev [translator’s note: the father of the Macedonian liberation movement, during Ottoman rule] drank three litres of wine and took out, from one mountain to the next, with his gun the tassels from the fez hats [translator’s note: a traditional Turkish man’s hat; also a synecdoche for a man of Turkish origin during Ottoman rule].
STEVO: I knew that he shot down the tassels. What about the Turks?
KASAP: Be quiet, you shameless twit, while I’m speaking!
STEVO: There’s going to be a new war, grandpa.
KASAP: So, what if there’s a new war? Did anyone ask your great-grandfather if he wanted a war? Did anyone ask me if I wanted there to be a war? Did they ask me if I wanted to butcher and slaughter even in peacetime?
STEVO: No, but that is the very problem. I won’t be asked either. So, I’m splitting. I don’t want to kill.
KASAP: Well, wear what you have on now, and before they put a bullet through your brain, tell them that you are the son of the president of Togo. And that you can play the blues on your Federica.
STEVO: (Naively) Even though I’m white?
KASAP: Think of something. Tell them you became white due to fear. (Andonovski, A Mutiny in a Nursing Home, 2000: 121-122).
In fact, this kind of a binary oppositional paring, in most of the mentioned plays, generally comes across as a generational conflict. And as such, in most cases, the hunter’s or killer’s urge lies with the generation of the parents, or “the older ones” vis-à-vis the innocence or self-centeredness of the children, or “the younger ones”.
In Vidić’s plays, the violent character most often comes in the role of the father, under the generic name, Father:
FATHER: I saw hunting as more than a hobby. I see hunting…I don’t know. As life. I admit, I love killing (…) Those bastards, I gave them all I had. Because I loved my family, my child, my friends, my homeland, that’s why I enlisted (…) And look how they repaid me. (…) Today I no longer love anyone. (…) I love only…only (Thinking) What do I love? Fucking crocodiles, I only love crocodiles. (Pensively) I am only sorry that I now can’t go to Africa, to hunt. If the situation were different, I’d enlist again…Yup, I’d rather go to Africa, I’d go to Africa. As far away from here as possible. For all of this misery and humiliation I can’t see straight anymore. And for them too, for me too, and for the crocodiles, but also to take out a blackie, before as miserable as he is now, hunger does him in. (Ivan Vidić, Big White Rabbit, in Kazalište, No. 11-12, AGM, Zagreb, 2002: 187).
In this play by Vidić, the character of Lukša’s daughter, Jela, otherwise a multiple victim to the deviant nature of society, stands as a binary oppositional character: brutally forsaken by her boyfriend, molested by the Professor, tricked into believing the innocence in the courtship of a passer-by, dies tragically at the hands of her father’s violence, who pours down her throat the poison intended for him. However, the sacrificing of the innocence of her young being is symbolically depicted also through the murder of her pet, the big white rabbit, by her hunter-father, thus aptly giving the play its title. What is interesting to notice is that the symbolism behind this iconic scene of family violence may also be found in Vidić’s play Chicken Pox, through a minor character, the sadomasochistic Maniac, who in the play’s culmination, while in prison, is given the chance to speak for the first time. It seems that this character is allowed to speak that one single time, which in turn, contains the rabbit as a symbol of unhampered innocence:
They caught me when I showed myself. Of course, the part that can be seen. And that is only the tip of the iceberg. What cannot be seen is under water, asleep in the darkness and much more dangerous. They will try to prove this to me: my father, my mother, a foreign bishop, those three children, the band players, the railway worker. Maybe even that sweet white rabbit I got as a kid. It had red little eyes, and would constantly, in a confused state wiggle its ears. (Tenderly) Its skin was so white, the most tender, the softest thing ever to touch a human’s hand…” (Vidić, Chicken Pox, 2002: 206).
However, what is also worth mentioning is that, in the Macedonian play, Sin or Spritzer by Nacev, we come across the same-like violent hunter’s authority of the Father, encapsulated by the paltry, insignificant man from the social margins, who senses, at a given moment, his daughter’s accusations about his own marginality and insignificance:
BEBA: I am at the top of my class!
KRSTO SPRITZER: There’s a girl who’s better than you, so don’t lie…
BEBA: Come on…her dad’s a doctor…she’s got connections…
KRSTO SPRITZER: So what…your dad’s a doctor too…an expert for wild boars, pheasants and rabbits (Aims with his ruffle) How many unexcused absences do you have? (Nasev, Sin or Spritzer, 1992: 39).
Penciling in the contours of the common trend, of depicting family drama as a social one, through the ‘behind-the-scenes’ represented trauma of the war, whence the contexts of the familial, the social and the political glidingly code-switch in the end, I’d like to examine, briefly, the complexity of the signifying structure along these lines, in the play A Mutiny in a Nursing Home by Andonovski. Introducing this play to the Croatian readership, in his preface as editor, Borislav Pavlovski, rightfully so, states the following initial claim:
An interpretation of A Mutiny in a Nursing Home could begin and end with the contention that once again a generational conflict, between the young and the old, has been thematized, if this text by Venko Andonovski did not carry within a far more complex idea as its basis, with an intertextual precursor. (Pavlovski, 2000: 86).
Namely, in this play whose composition consists of two parts, while structured along the lines of the auto-referential code of ‘a play within a play’, the theme of the framework play, or the reality of the play, and with that the generational conflict concerning the struggle for territory within the space of the home and the family (i.e., the old folk have been run out of their homes and sent to the nursing home), emerges also as a theme of the framed play, that is to say, the fiction of the play, since the old folks in the nursing home, following the accord of the new Warden, stage a play, which by following Slavic folk motifs thematizes the same situation, of evicting the old from their homes and abandoning them in the mountains (after the adage: They sent grandpa to the mountains, to get eaten by the bears.) In this first part of the play, the action in fact depicts the disruptions of the interaction borders of the dramatic fiction, the play staged by the old folk, and the spilling over of the generational conflict, from the sphere of fiction (the framed play – the inside play) into the sphere of the reality of the play (the framework play – the outside play).
The second part of the play continues to multiply the contexts of the codes’ spilling over: now, no longer between reality and fiction, but also, between the spheres of the private – family, intimacy, the psychological, and the sphere of the public and the social. Thus, in the second part of the play, the standpoint of the new Warden is implied, whose aggressively superior character is first de-masked by his former frustration: the love affair between his wife and his step-father. In that way, the generational conflict which comes out of the struggle to claim one’s territory inside the home gets demonized and thus spills over within the sphere of intimacy and incest. On the other hand, these spillovers in terms of signification take place in the background, on the TV screen the war in Bosnia unfolds, as a war set within the realm of the public sphere, which at the same time may be interpreted as a fratricide war, if viewed from the perspective of the familial, based on the parole of brotherhood and unity, which had until recently constituted the laws governing the federal territory. With that, the dramatic kaleidoscope of the signifying spillovers within the common juxtaposition has been fractured, through the mythic, that is to say, the folkloristic prism of the familial as well as the generational conflict (which can be marked by a line from the folk song “They sent grandpa to the mountains/To get eaten by bears”).
The parallels that can be drawn at this stage between the numerous characters and dramatic situations depicted in the aforementioned Macedonian and Croatian plays are far greater in number. At this instance, nonetheless, I only hoped to pencil in the contours of this commonly shared occurrence of the family drama as social drama in the Macedonian and Croatian drama of the last decade of the 20th century. Hence, it is more than appropriate, here, on this occasion when stressing the present spillovers between the spheres of the public and the private, to mention the observations made by David Glover, a researcher of the relationship existing between history and myth.
History is compacted into myth through a kind of chiasmus, a double movement of ideological inscription in which, just as the historical conjecture is sexualized (or “familiarized”), so conflicts within the family structure are projected out onto the wider public sphere. (Glover, 1996: 139)
This double sliding and mutual projecting is rendered visible in each one of the
aforementioned plays by Vidić (particularly when referring to family violence, whence in
the plays by Vidić incest has been repositioned through the mentorship role of the Professor,
who appears just as so in the plays of this author, as the character-in-the-function of a
Professor), as well as in the plays by Nasev and Andonovski. And this particular shared
dramatic choice makes the basis, not only of the mutual translatability of the
dramatic poetics of these authors, in the two cultures, which could also refer to the entire
former Yugoslav socialist federal territory, but also wider, almost throughout the entire space
of the once socialist bloc, by which the Macedonian and the Croatian cultural environments
come to share a similar cultural (Slavic) and social premise (the ramifications of a
change in the system). Henceforth, this very same dramatic choice stands as the
basis for any further dialogical study of the commonalities and the differences in the
dramatic authorship of these playwrights, but also, generally speaking, of the countless others
who belong to their generation.
Аврамовска, Наташа „Аспекти на театарската комуникација (самореференцијалноста на драмата)“ во: Македонската драматика/драматургија помеѓу традицијата и современоста, прир. Јелена Лужина, Македонски тетатарски фестивал „Војдан Чернодрински“, Прилеп, 1997:65-74).
„Прекодирање на драмскиот во театарски текст“ во: Актерството и режијата во македонскиот театар, прир. Јелена Лужина, Македонски тетатарски фестивал „Војдан Чернодрински“, Прилеп, 1999, стр. 223-227.
Andonovski, Venko "Pobuna u staračkom domu" u: B. Pavlovski: Antologija nove makedonske drame, prev. B. Pavlovski, Zagreb, 2000, str.101-157. („Бунт во домот за старци“ во: Андоновски, Венко: Пет драми, Култура, Скопје, 2001, стр. 239-312.
Видиќ, Иван „Сипаници“ во: Антологија на современата хрватска драма, прев. Венко Андоновски, Факултет за драмски уметности, Скопје, 2002, стр.159-210.
Дуковски, Дејан „Буре Барут“, во: Културен живот, 1995, бр. 1-2, стр. 105-118. (прев на хрв. во: B. Pavlovski: Antologija nove makedonske drame, Zagreb, 2000, str.159-199).
Glover, David Vampires, Mummies, and Liberals: Bram Stoker and the Politics of Popular Fiction (Duke, 1996).
Lukić, Darko "Problemi prevođenja i razumijevanja specifičnih lokalnih problema izvan njihovog vlastitog okruženja", in: Dramski tekstovi danas u Bosni i Hercegovini, Hrvatskoj i Srbiji i Crnoj Gori: mogućnosti dramatuških čitanja, Fakultet dramskih umetnosti, Cetinje, 2005, str. 34-43.
Насев, Сашко Грев или шприцер, НИП „Магазин 21“ - Скопје, 1992.
„Позитивно мислење“ во: Тренд, ревија за театар, 1997 бр.7-8, стр. 43-53. (прев. на хрв. во: B. Pavlovski: Antologija nove makedonske drame, prev. B. Ravlovski, Zagreb, 2000, str.253¬-295).
Никчевиќ, Сања Антологија на современата хрватска драма, прев. Венко Андоновски, Факултет за драмски уметности, Скопје, 2002.
Pavlovski, Borislav Antologija nove makedonske drame, Hrvatski centar ITI-UNESCO, Zagreb, 2000.
Senker, Boris "Veliko svjetsko kazalište u dnevnoj sobi", in: Dramski tekstovi danas u Bosni i Hercegovini, Hrvatskoj i Srbiji i Crnoj Gori: mogućnosti dramatuških čitanja, Fakultet dramskih umetnosti, Cetinje, 2005: 44-53.
Vidić, Ivan Drame, Mansioni, Hrvatski centar ITI Unesco, Zagreb 2002.
"Veliki beli zec" u: Kazalište, br.11, AGM, Zagreb 2002.
1. Dejan Dukovski, with his Powder Keg, among the Macedonian playwrights, is the only one who quite skillfully depicts, dramatically, the context of social drama without probing into society’s core: the family unit (Avramovska, 1999: 223-227).
2. Translator’s note: This excerpt from Nasev’s play, as well as the other excerpts from the quoted plays, has been translated into English solely for the purpose of this paper’s publication.
3. Bato’s gentleness and his pacifism are indirectly stated, through his “Francophone” sensibilities, his “emasculinization” which his father points out, as present due to his choice of study (the philological sciences), set opposite to his girlfriend’s, Ida’s, studies in mechanical engineering (“My colleagues are going to rip me to shreds,” says his father), the choice for the world of his home which he nostalgically paints pink, the depression seen through his eating binges in front of the TV while his girlfriend is out, selling her body for money, etc.
4. A closer analysis of the use of the kaleidoscope by the intertextual premises, which in turn take part in the signifying structure of the play, while referring primarily to the auto-referential dramatic structure (of a play within a play) can be found on the pages of my paper, titled “The Aspects of the Theatrical Communication (Self-Reflexivity in Drama)”, published in 1997.