The Georgian Diary

The Georgian Showcase became the most interesting part of the Tbilisi International Festival of Theatre that was held this autumn.  Man against a post-war background was its prevailing theme.

Several premieres were performed within the framework of the showcase; among those was "The Hunting Season", based on a play by contemporary playwright Tamaz Chiladze.  This play was Robert Sturua's last production at the Shota Rustaveli State Drama Theatre.  In light of Sturua's dismissal back in August this production could not help but become the Festival's main event.

The "Season's" genre can be defined as tragicomedy.  The only details of the everyday life are a double bed for the young actress Ia (Ia Sukhinashvili), an antique phone, an armchair, and a television set.  A creepy-looking fence separates the bedroom from the rest of the stage, and from behind that fence -- almost as if jumping straight out of the heroine's dreams -- some warlike apparitions burst onto the stage and begin shooting left and right.  Artist Temur Ninua hung several screens above the fence and set them for continual broadcasting of Disney's "Snow White".  In this instance, the peaceful symbol of the American mass culture appears to be nothing short of a cruel irony.

As is always the case with Sturua, reality here gets easily intertwined with fiction, present with past.  Playwright Ale, Ia's husband (a fine performance by Goga Barbakadze) writes plays for her, hammering away on an old typewriter.  Reed grows right in the bedroom, and it almost feels as though a white swan could swim out from behind it at any moment.  And in one of the final scenes Ia herself will appear wearing a ballet tutu.  The characters say funny and strange dialogues, which help the audience to gradually understand that everything that happens on the stage exists only in Ia's imagination. The aggressive character in a military uniform, whom Ia recognizes as her missing in action father (Zuka Papuashvili), and even her dearly beloved Ale, and everyone else -- have long departed from this world, and not of their own free will either.  It is no coincidence that groups of men in civilian and military clothes keep jumping out onto the stage, mercilessly shooting at each other. Toward the end, when the smoke clears, all seven European presidents that visited Georgia after the recent war with Russia come on stage to the roars of laughter from the audience.  Dressed all dapper, they hug their shoes to their chests (apparently, in order to avoid leaving their footprints in this conflict), and they sashay like that across the entire auditorium to the audience's thunderous laughter. In short, Sturua, who is no stranger to Brecht's theatre methods (his theatre, in fact, began with Brecht's "The Caucasian Chalk Circle"), tells a funny and bitter parable about the recent events that took place in Georgia.  According to Chiladze's play, those events should be viewed as open season on the Everyman: on the fragile, naive Ia, on the people in the audience, on all of us.

The show's openly fairytale ending is surprising at first: the widowed Ia (even though Ale, alive in her memory, is still present on stage) launches into a soliloquy about a Prince, and, in keeping with the fairytale tradition, the Prince appears and leads the heroine away. The easiest thing to do would have been to criticize this ending, while also reproaching the entire production with excessive aesthetic "shagginess".   But one must also keep in mind here that his fellow countrymen have long viewed Robert Sturua as somewhat of a prophet.  "Robik, you are always prophesying horrible things to us, and then they happen.  You wrote 'Styx', and a plane fell out of the sky in Sochi.  Robik, we are tired of misfortunes; please, write something with a happy end," this was one of the conversations with the director, retold to me by an old, loyal colleague of his. May it be God's will that this mark the end of Georgia's drawn-out and bloody open season. 

Among the Georgian Showcase's other premieres is "Homomorales" by the Sukhumi Konstantine Gamsakhurdia Drama Theatre (directed by Beqa Qavtaradze). 

This production grew out of a reading.  One of the plays presented at the previous Tbilisi Festival was "Executioner 14", written by Adel Hakim, an Egyptian-born Frenchman.  The subject of the play is a man, who during the war does something that goes beyond the fringes of morality and common sense.  Beyond the boundaries of what human mind can accept.  Playwright Adel Hakim and the director afterwards manage to rise to the level of generalization.  Here, like in Sturua's "The Hunting Season", war can have no losers, no winners, no dead, and no living -- there are only ghosts that appear to us again and again in order to tell us of the experiences they had to suffer through.  

This production, which talks about bloodshed and violence, is both graceful and delicate in its approach.  The protagonist's beloved -- a red-haired clown girl with black tears on her face and torn red stockings on her feet -- becomes victim of rapist soldiers, but the production provides no physiology, not even a scream. There are only ominous circus numbers, performed by the very same girl and an equally red-haired boy, riding his bicycle back and forth across the stage in front of an enormous steel bloodstained chair.  Could be, it's an electric chair, or maybe it's a present-day equivalent of the rack.  

The play was written in the form of a dialogue that takes place during an interrogation: a private is explaining himself to a lame officer.  "Let's play a game.  Let's pretend that you came from a conflict zone," the officer suggests, trying to find out the private's name. The latter refuses to give his name, but he does provide him with more and more new terrifying facts that forced him to pick up his weapon.  As the soldier's story unfolds, the officer's hands begin to shake.  At the end of the play, as if unable to bear this confession, he will shoot the soldier point-blank.  That done, he will limp over to a huge trunk.  Ripping off a blanket covering it, he will reveal the inscription "200", the stamps of Afghanistan, Iraq, Chechnya.   And he will burst out laughing, a jeering, devilish laugh.

It is worthy of mention that the production performed on the small stage of the Kote Marjanishvili State Drama Theatre does not have a permanent place of residence.  Beginning in 1990, the Sukhumi Konstantine Gamsakhurdia Drama Theatre has been living in forced exile.  This makes the production's authors' ability to rise to the level of tragic generalization all the more valuable. 

The theme continues with "Yellow Days" by the Valerian Gunia State Drama Theatre (Poti's) in David Mgebrishvili's production.  The production addresses the ethnic conflicts that have been tearing Georgia apart over the past few years.  A vivacious, rosy-cheeked girl, her sullen brother and fiancé play out a classic story of choice: the brother is fighting on one side, the fiancé on the other.  And even though the fiancé spared the brother's life in combat, reconciliation between them is impossible.  The result of their strife is the death of the lead female character.  Unfortunately, the production is staged using devices that are even beyond naive; they are primitive. The principal component of their stage design is a bunch of planed boards that the characters balance on when they need to express danger, clap together when they need to tighten the tension, etc.  All in all, "Yellow Days" is an honest but amateurish statement on a topical subject. 

The quite traditional, entertaining production of "The Decameron" by the Kote Marjanishvili State Drama Theatre, directed by Levan Tsuladze, allows the audience to see one more time the extent of the catastrophe suffered by the Georgian people over the past several years. Only people who had suffered through many hardships can experience such childish joy at the theatre.  To be fair, it should be noted that even this production, sewn together based on outdated theatrical templates and designed to entertain the audience, is not lacking in elegance and subtle humor.   

Choreographer Gela Kandelaki attempted to rise above today's problems - his production of "Acharpany" talks about the human path from birth to death. By bringing together ballet artists from different Georgian theatres Kandelaki created a show, where elements of contemporary dance are seamlessly interwoven with Abkhazian folklore, and ancient music, performed on Abkhazian folk instruments, is interlaced with works of modern-day composers. The dancers have excellent training, while the fiery character and express brutality, and even occasional heaviness of male dances -- in comparison with airy female solos -- add ethnic originality and charm to the production. 

The Ilia Chavchavadze Batumi State Theatre's "We Need the Old Clown" in Giorgi Tavadze's production forced the audience to experience nostalgia for the great Georgian comedians of the past.  A student of Sturua, Tavadze staged Matei Visniec's play about three old clowns that came looking for work.   They quarrel, reconcile, argue about which of them is the oldest, show magic tricks and await the arrival of a certain Employer -- much like Beckett's characters wait for Godot.  The production is spectacular but superficial; and this applies to the acting as well. Old men are played by fairly young actors; they lack skills and ability to develop their role from beginning to end. 

Young actors from the Georgian Iliauni Theatre appear to have inherited the best traditions of Georgian comedians.  This professional theatre that sets itself up as a non-repertory theatre was born a year ago at a Tbilisi university. In reality, Iliauni looks much more like an experimental theatre that has brought together artists from different companies.  Its production of "Harms" -- a potpourri of the writer's biography and stories -- attests to that.  The production begins as a reading -- the actors, passing the book to each other, talk about the life of one Daniil Yuvachev, the future Harms (Kharms). And then they start throwing lines at each other and juggling the images of Harms' oddballs.  The result is a witty and easy production.  David Gotsiridze, a young actor from the Rustaveli Theatre, gives an especially memorable performance.  He truly resembles a writer who is creating Harms' absurd worlds before our very eyes.  And like at all times past and present, eccentricity and humor, so greatly revered by the Georgian audience, remain the principal antidote to life's offered circumstances.

 

Alla Shenderova

 

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