Nicoleta Esinencu is, among the young dramatists of the Republic of Moldova, the most played on European theatre stages. It is a controversial author, even blasted by some of her fellow countrymen, because her plays are not just avant-garde and frustratingly experimental for some, but they are also challenging by topic: political manipulation, the hidden history of local Holocaust, the situation of gay people, the massive identity crisis especially in a fluctuating political geography.
Her latest play, “American Dream”, combines social theatre, interested in the condition of the new working class situation, with sort of a geopolitical analysis poetry. How does a man from “Empire” outskirts experince the post-Cold War era? A regular girl from a village in Moldova dreams to a “work & travel” visa in mythical America. After an initial failure in an “Occident” that is radically different from its advertised image, she will also discover the alternative: Vladimir Putin’s new, corrupted and authoritarian Russia.
In the background, the show proposes geopolitical edited visuals, based on the image of the multiple player game “Monopoly”, with Putin and Obama as lead players. The author’s approach is based on the tradition of judging politics from the perspective of the regular person’s everyday life, with skepticism towards pretended ideological justifications and manipulating idealism.
America was not merely a political myth for Romanians (and Moldavians), the chance to escape Soviet and communist slavely, but also a cultural model, the dream of a luxurious society, that sets grounds for freedom and personal success.
Oncem criticizing capitalist society was the hotspot of communist propaganda, yet, today, one needs intellectual bravery to see through the world of ads that feed compensation to so many people highly inadequate to the reality surrounding them. Work continues to be alienating for many people, due to inhuman and degrading labour conditions. Capitalism, with all philanthropic corrections, preserves its potential to exploit and all the dramas deriving from its mechanisms based on competition.
This economical exploitation may also be found, fed by a climate of specific violence, in the new Russian space. It is a hostile world, where the regular person is almost always a sure victim, and alternatives are deceiving – and this is a vision worthy of a renewal of tragedy, unless a certain obstinacy of inner resistance would not grant a gate of escape. Defeat is not final, but the rules of the game (“Monopoly” is a metaphor of the visceral greed of mankind), with a prestige maintained by advertising, seems not to allow any deep changes.
In the version presented by the National Theatre of Cluj, directed by young Leta Popescu – the viewer’s attention is drawn, during the visuals screened on the background, by the images of a challenging performance: a naked man, moving on his knees on an overcrowded street, at broad daylight, bonded with a chain and miming aggressive bites.
It is obviously a metaphor: the man trated as a beast, deprived of liberty and kept on his knees by masters who think they are more valuable. Especially when it comes to the new racism, generated by millions of migrants that overturn society all over the world. In this overall crisis of identity, where can you feel “at home”?
In the play, the Mayor of the village where the young girl leaves from gives loans with interest – and this fact merely adds to the tragic journey of the heroine. Actually, both US and Russia are multi-ethnic states, affected by major inequality and even racism. But, also, they are patterns of contemporary world, highly fluctuating and colourful, questioning well established identity and dependant on advertisment consumption.
What would happen if America would be a less desirable existential target? What would Europe need to reach a balance with itself, getting rid of self-sufficiency and self-hatred? In a previous and even more challenging play, Nicoleta Esinencu was expressing her doubts towards the European project, a Europe that it not accidentally absent from the geography proposed by the “American Dream”.
The author is no nihilist – she is, actually, the cultural product of a Europe that had promoted her plays – yet, she invites us not to forget that the future of our continent depends on the option for a less idealist and hypocrite humanism.