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The annual UNITER gala is not solely an opportunity for an aesthetical panorama of local theater life, but also a gauge of the passions that enliven society as a whole. The award for debut was won by the very young Lucia Marneanu (actress) and Leta Popescu (director) for the provocative show “Parallel.”
The issue of fluctuating sexual identity still stirs Romanian society, divided between the European option and the religious tradition. But “Parallel” has the merit of moving the debate beyond ideological arguments, cultivating metaphysical meditation. That combination between a moral protest and an aesthetic innovation, characteristic of more substantial non-conformism, is rendering hard to digest a show that otherwise has an extremely pretentious and seducing plasticity. The frame is minimalist, almost empty, at the limit of abstraction, out of center because of interchangeable halves, with objects (few in number) that are used in a surreal or conceptual way.
The show combines several registers, from contemporary dance to conceptual performance, and from mute movement to ecstatic monologue. As a prolonged (and exasperating) prologue – an aerobic exercise: symbolic space of metamorphosis, corporal but not solely corporal. It reminds us of the monotonous track car trip from Tarkovski’s “Stalker,” an ascetic path towards the “Zone,” an upside-down reality with a more fluid dynamic. (Existential) Gymnastics is the source of identities, and not immutable platonic ideas: the two characters (female characters at first) change their clothing, cameras, attitude and even gender (through a simulation of genital masculinity), in a kaleidoscopic journey mined by hysterical inadequacy. The grotesque and the sentimental become entwined, doubled by an existential outcry, at first dampened, in the end exacerbated.
“Parallel” talks about the loneliness that accompanies an identity construct (perceived as a circumscribed space), about the tragic-comedy of travesty (when versatility threatens privacy), about the lack of dialectics of alternation (with the risk of the labyrinth), about the ambiguity of metamorphoses. Its artistic success owes a lot to (Ferenc Sinko’s) choreography, with the emphasis placed on an extremely suggestive slow motion that confers an unusual plasticity to the theater-dance scenes. The use of a urinal (along with the football ball – fetish-objects of a masculine civilization) as a body accessory (in combination with surrealist accents that reminds us of Hieronymus Bosch’s contorted characters) is at the opposite end of reification, the objects themselves leaving behind the status of elements of (existential) decorum, caught in the midst of a symbolic rearrangement of reality. The urinal can insidiously replace a head – more precisely, it can invade a mentality. The end brings into play a falsely-theological interrogation: the reneging of the wandering daughters (when it comes to sexual identity) or the suspension of paternal cringing? The stake is the moral construct of the self and a more radical confrontation with the religious basis of a civilization. A confrontation that will continue to generate debates.
The award for best actor went to Cornel Raileanu, for the lead role in Eugene Ionesco’s “Ce formidable bordel,” a play staged in Cluj by Silviu Purcarete. The character he interprets is called precisely that – “Character,” because he seems mistakenly cast in a play that is foreign to him. He represents a strident exception in the world of those around him, all caught up in a grotesque dance in relation to which he seems to be of anachronistic and even “guilty” normality. Guilty for not getting involved at all in the social dynamic, preoccupied solely with his home comfort, his daily lunch or with a casual intimacy – a petty bourgeois lacking ambitions or resentments. Ionesco was bantering the spirit of the 1968 revolts, denouncing the revolutionary hedonism that generated sterile chaos, like an apocalypse of violence that was insurrectional and repressive at the same time. He has the modest dignity of not wanting to muddy the waters in any way. He is detached, in the end even emotionally apathetic, crumbled by successive sentimental (and implicitly existential) failures. A play that continues to be relevant, because not few of our contemporaries that have a certain moral sensitiveness withdraw in this apathy that makes them immune to risky ideological adventures, but at the same time sterile, incapable of social creativity. In relation to other characters of his that are lonely in the fight against a perverted world, Ionesco’s “Character” is more defeated, more incapable of reaction, he is of a fully automated skepticism. His very normality has become artificial, being an irreductible but fundamentally devitalized element. He is just a shadow, as so many of us are if we are to look at ourselves in a ruthless mirror.
The same Silviu Purcarete was also awarded for the best show – Roger Vitrac’s “Victor ou les enfants au pouvoir,” a show staged with the Hungarian Theater in Cluj. The director is a declared conservative, harboring no illusions about change, fascinated by the world’s eternal imperfection. For him chaos is not the prelude of an improvement, it’s the propitious environment of conservation.
Unlike Ionesco, his forerunner Vitrac wants to dislodge the bourgeois order, dramatizing its expected implosion through a portrait of a grotesque intimacy. The children are mature, and the adults irresponsible, authority becoming sliding, which generates abuse, hypocrisy and hysteria. The image of an old child, frozen in his internal development or, on the contrary, monstrously precocious, while at the same time vulnerable and traumatized, as well as capable of discretionary and capricious power, has as its counter-balance an elderly dwarf (the actor manages to credibly mask the fact that he walks on his knees by wearing a long cloak), in a full loss of measure. The ceiling is wallpapered with an artificial sky, the doors are lower than the characters (a sign of dreamlike inadequacy), skeletons decorate the room, the floor and walls are decorated with linear models (a hysterical order), the shadows and the light and shade are significant – Dragos Buhagiar’s scenography illustrates an atmosphere of subtle inadequacy. Undergoing an insidious crisis of authority. Just like Romanian society.