Resurrection of Václav Havel’s Theatre and Erotic Dreams in Pilsen

Zbyněk Černík*

DIVADLO International Theatre Festival, 31st edition, Pilsen, Czech Republic, September 2023.

As usual, the 2023 Divadlo Festival in the capital of Western Bohemia, Pilsen, presented the best productions staged by Czech theatres in the previous year. Traditionally, it was also visited by theatres from abroad: in the 1990s, such famous companies as Burgtheater from Wien, Rimini Protokoll from Germany, Det Norske Teatret from Oslo or the international Cheek by Jowl turned up (and with them famous playwrights like Arthur Miller or Tom Stoppard). Lately, due to  limited economic resources, the foreign component has been more modest, but interesting productions, mostly from Eastern Europe (Poland, Hungary, Baltic States and so on), could still be seen.

Greek warriors waiting in line to rape a Trojan woman in The Trojan Women from Teatr Wybrezeze in Gdansk, Poland. The city of Troy is sand castles in Mirek Kaczmarek’s set. Photo: Zsolt Eöri-Szabó

One of the main attractions of 2023 was (or should have been) Euripides’ The Trojan Women, directed by Poland’s Jan Klata, of which, however, the audience could see only the first half. (During the performance, there was a burglary in the ladies’ dressing room, and therefore the actresses refused to go on playing after the interval.)

Family and neighbours gather to share a meal in Slovak National Theatre’s Children. L-R Thália Král (the little girl, who silently witnesses quarrels and secret romances), Diana Mórová (as Vrapúchová), Jozef Vajda (as Grúnik), Daniel Fischer (as Grúnik’s son), Emília Vášáryová (as Drozdíková), Emil Horváth (as Mišúr), Kamila Magálová (as Kanátová), Rebeka Poláková (as Zuza), Gregor Hološka (as Paľo), Bence Hégli (as Jurko Vrapúch). Photo: Collavino

Among the other foreign productions (that were spared unhappy incidents), Children should be mentioned. It was presented by the Slovak National Theatre (Slovenské národné divadlo) from Bratislava, a city which, when the Pilsen festival started thirty-one years ago, before Czechoslovakia was divided, had been part of the same country as Pilsen. Although nowadays it is the capital of an independent state, the Czech and Slovak nations remain near to each other and so do their cultures.

The family at the table is losing the younger generation to the television set in Children. L-R Kamila Magálová (Kanátová), Rebeka Poláková (Zuza), Emil Horváth (Mišúr), Daniel Fischer (Grúnik’s son), Gregor Hološka (Paľo), Amélia Tkáčová (Little Girl). Photo: Collavino

That’s why Slovak theatres are considered almost “domestic” in the Czech Republic, and their guest performances are always warmly welcomed and well understood. This is also the case of Children, based on two short stories by the Slovak writer Božena Slančíková-Timrava and directed by the experienced Slovak and Czech director Michal Vajdička. It deals with the everlasting theme of complicated and painful relationships between different generations, as well as those between married couples and lovers. The audience was impressed by the admirable performances of the actors, led by the phenomenal Emília Vášaryová (an actress whose admirers numbered, among others, the Swedish playwright Per Olov Enquist).

In red, the prostitute Katyusha Maslova, under investigation for murder (Kateřina Císařová); her seducer, the dandyish Prince Nekhlyudov (Miloslav König), hidden behind a chair, with Václav Vašák and Dita Kaplanová in Lev Tolstoy’s Resurrection. Photo: KIVA

Ten years ago, the Prague Theatre on the Balustrade (Divadlo Na zábradlí), once the home stage of (at first stagehand, then playwright, later President) Václav Havel, was taken over by a group of theatre enthusiasts from Brno, the country’s second largest city. With them, they brought Jan Mikulášek, a young director of several successful productions. These were well received also in Prague, although his later productions there did not always meet the viewers’ high expectations.

As so often with Theatre on the Balustrade, in Resurrection the stage becomes divided in two levels. Upstairs by the piano: Miloslav König; standing: Dita Kaplanová; crouching (L-R): Jiří Černý, Anna Kameníková, Kateřina Císařová, Václav Vašák. Photo: KIVA

However, in Resurrection, Mikulášek found himself again. In Tolstoy’s famous story of a prostitute accused of murder and her seducer and judge in the same person, as adapted by the contemporary German playwright Armin Petras, Mikulášek’s “poetics,” based on the perfect teamwork of the two leading actors (Miloslav König and Kateřina Císařová), short “film cuts,” parallel actions on the stage and sober but highly effective stage design, worked as they should and made a deep impression.

In Fifty, the set, by Nikola Tempír, is a houseboat, where the drum-enthusiast (Václav Neužil) claims to live in order to impress a potential girlfriend (Denisa Barešová), who falls for the real owner of the houseboat (see photo below). Photo: Hynek Glos

Dejvice Theatre (Dejvické divadlo), also from Prague, is a very small theatre but a very popular one. It is practically impossible to buy tickets there; they are permanently sold out. Its popularity is due to the close, almost intimate contact between the actors and the audience and, above all, to the excellent ensemble. Because of the high demand for tickets, the company usually gives its Pilsen performances in the Grand Theatre, which is a little too big, so that contact between the stage and the auditorium is not strong. In spite of that, this year’s premiere, the “sad comedy“ Fifty by the contemporary Czech writer and director Petr Zelenka, was highly applauded.

Ivan Trojan as the man in his fifties, living in a houseboat and dreaming of a threesome in Fifty. Photo: Hynek Glos

The story of a selfish middle-aged divorcee, a free-lance architect, who stubbornly but unsuccessfully tries to realize his erotic dream of a threesome, may, at first glance, seem to be too simple and shallow and the play a mere conversation piece. But Fifty also contains deeper layers and says a lot about human nature, the political and social background of its characters and so on. All this was presented by highly professional actors: the theatre and film superstar Ivan Trojan (who in the Czech Theatre Critics’ Survey won an award for the best leading male role of the year 2022) and his colleagues. 

*Zbyněk Černík (born 1951) studied Anglo-American and Scandinavian literatures at the Faculty of Arts of Charles University in Prague. From 1977 until 1993, he worked as an editor for Odeon publishing house. After the Velvet Revolution, he tried various professions: university teacher, editor of the culture channel of the Czech Radio and the Theatre Institute, critic, publicist and so on. He translates fiction and drama from English and Scandinavian languages and writes books for both children and adult readers.

Copyright © 2023 Zbyněk Černík
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