Between Marxism and incensory smoke

The Suicide’s story written by Nikolay Erdman is, in short, the story of one of the most profound and indestructible love stories that have ever existed; that between man and himself. It is the „shorted chronicle”, as the playwright would say, not of the times that surround us, but of those inside us. The chronicle of a „once upon a time” that always refers not to immemorial worlds and times, but to the present which possesses us, at our organic need TO BE, TO EXIST;  both now and in the next second.

As a matter of fact, it is not a game, but rather a play about death. In which the protagonist is not, however, a child, but a grown-up, who lets himself seduced for a moment by the pleasure of enjoying his own death, from somewhere above, as though death was only a journey… to a place abroad from where he could return. With a perverse innocence, he allows himself to be carried on the wings of a hazard that starts living his life, taking him toward the end of the world. And there he finds himself facing his own person. Like Nietzsche’s man who looks down into the abyss and sees how the abyss looks back at him.

The concern of the director, Felix Alexa, is obvious – in the most recent performances set on stage at different theatres – for the man facing his own limits, facing his own hopes and despairs, his own abilities and disabilities. After The Death of a Salesman at Bulandra, The Kings’ Game at the Public Jew Theatre or Terrorism, at the Theatre in Constanta, Felix Alex sets up now at the Amphitheatre Hall of the National Theatre in Bucharest the famous play forbidden by Stalin, which both Meyerhold and Stanislavski wanted to set on stage and for which its author, Nikolai Erdman, was deported to Siberia for three years.

The director places his character/ characters in a kind of non-time and non-place where, apart from any form of political dictatorship, the important one remains the „dictatorship” of life. No force copes with the man’s desire to live, Kafka wrote at the end of The Trial. And Erdman creates a story in which the game about death slowly turns into a game with death. In short. Senia Podsekalnikov, unemployed, has been paying his debts for over a year from his wife’s salary. However, it’s not the shortages and the bitterness that dig slowly in him bottomless abysses, but the thoughts that a whole world is thinking for him. In fact, the worst dictatorship is the one performed by the „masses” upon a man’s thoughts; who, step by step lets himself influenced by their thoughts, governed and manipulated with, again, an almost perverse innocence. Without really meaning to commit suicide, actually, without believing to have a real reason for suicide, Podsekalnikov lets himself caught in a mad vortex that takes him to his… coffin, but not to his grave. His so called desire for suicide is contaminated by an entire society, in which representatives of different social categories want to take credit for his death, as a trophy. And Podsekalnikov discovers on the last moment that, in fact, not even death belongs to him anymore. And he chooses life. He gets up of the coffin in which he has just listened to his memorial service and starts wolfing greedily his coliva*. But faith takes vengeance upon him. The game claims its victim. Senia does not die, but his thought of suicide makes a victim out of him. Another man takes his life: Podsekalnikov is right. Life is not worth living.

Felix Alexa places the action in a simple space, bordered by doors, one next to the other, each of them having a clock fitted on, giving the strange impression that the world truly begins on the other side. That time begins on the other side. Although, when the doors open, all you can see behind them is a mirror… The world is reflected and is swallowed up by itself.

And the story begins one night; a story in which humor and sadness are chatting on a bed side. Senia and Maşa. Casting Dan Puric and Ileana Olteanu in the two roles, Felix Alexa speculates on  an amalgam of love – hate, chagrin – affection – boredom – dismay, of tenderness and  bitter gentleness, strongly pointing out every scene and image that he creates. The thorough care with which the director draws out the detail-gesture – so rare on the Romanian stages – is for certain an advantage of the setting at the National Theatre in Bucharest, where every scene is built itself as a story, encompassing all the other ones.

The tension grows gradually, the lack of communication, or better said, the misunderstanding entails a whole world of even dipper chasms.And Senia lets himself caught in their whirl with no chance of escaping. Both his despair and his incapacity to live and to die, the whole world’s cruelty are naturally and painfully captured in the scene of the „party” before the ordered suicide. Next to each other, in front of the doors that lead to nowhere, having above them the ticking clock that points the way to death, people – intellectuals, priests, artists, good or bad – all send him to the after-world, obsessively and cruelly inviting him to drink; drink so as to forget his thoughts, to stop existing, to drink until he reaches dismay. But what Felix Alexa succeeds to grasp is first of all people’s dismay of living their tragedies through the others. A streak (of color) on the painful black and white background is the moment of powerful dramatic pathos, well performed by Silviu Biriş. That wakes up all the ices of Siberia and all the Dostoyevsky kind melancholies of Russia. That get lost with no chance of being saved in the Marxist „order” which starts to settle over everything, so subtlety captured with humor and bitter wince by Marius Manole, the boy who learns to look at a woman „from a Marxist point of view”… This is where the entire drama takes place. Between Marxism and incensory smoke, the man loses his interest.

And if the entire performance should be reduced to a single scene, to just one gesture, that would be the deaf-mute child’s (Nikita Dembinski) sign to Senia not to put the gun to his temple, but to live… The whole meaning of life is captured in his sign and in the suicide’s hunger when eating afterwards his own coliva, saying between gorges that all he wants is to live.

And if the stage management had not insisted so much on the suicide’s memorial service, who bolts himself alive in the glass coffin, after having sign for the festoons for his own death that didn’t happen, and if there was not so much incensory smoke and „Veşnica pomenire!”** on the stage, maybe the simplicity and subtlety of the setting would not have to suffer. And if…

Written by Monica Andronescu

Translated by Ioana Nita, MTTLC, 2nd year

*coliva = is an offering closely connected with the Memorial Services in Church for the benefit of one’s departed; the primary ingredient consists of wheat kernels which have been boiled until they are soft. These are usually mixed with a variety of ingredients which may include pomegranate seeds, sesame seeds, almonds, ground walnuts, cinnamon, sugar, raisins, anise and parsley.

**veşnica pomenire = memory eternal

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