We, as tired East-Europeans that we are, know very well.As well as we do, many other people, living in the century that has just finished, know or knew it. The history has shown them very clearly the right answer for this question. Around it The Suicide is built, the Russian playwright’s work, Nikolai Erdman, written at Meyerhold’s goad, which went through so many adventures after 1928, the publication year, and staged now at the National Theatre in Bucharest by director Felix Alexa.
Before the performance.
At the letter that Stanislavki had sent him, asking for his permission to start staging the play, the beloved father from Kremlin answered as follows: “I do not have a very good opinion about The Suicide. My closest comrades think this play is a little hollow and harmful. (…) You will be supervised by my comrades who have knowledge of artistic matters. I know little about this domain. Best regards, I. Stalin.” What was it about? It was about a play written by a young man who dresses drama in the delicate and transparent plaints of comedy. It was about a certain Semion Semionovici Podsekalnikov, a poor unemployed man in a country that was prisoner of a criminal ideology, captive of a life without horizon, toy of a system that does not want him to know the world is made up of men like him, who want to eat lebăr* in the middle of the night, to say, “at least whispering, what a hard life we have” and live humble. It was about a suicide who does not want to commit suicide, about a man who wants to live, but whom the others do not allow to live, about the “intellectuals” who want heroes, not people… about the being facing the history that is in all things, about the life that no longer can be wonderful, because even a woman’s body must be looked at “from a Marxist point of view”…
On the stage
A play with a big density of ideas, and therefore, a piece of information against a regime, around which grows a philosophy of the human condition and of history, without resembling a thesis. And a refined, incisive performance that has been worked on scene by scene by the detail’s technique, without dissonances or excesses, like a mechanism is which the clearness and the sensitivity cohabit harmoniously. A whole that does not cripple the text’s abundance of ideas, but on the contrary, emphasizes the shade, searching every character’s truth and going beyond it, creating on the stage the truth of a universe made up of the realities of the universes that it encompasses. It is a setting that analyzes both the peculiar and the general, an extremely rare thing in the scenic performances nowadays. An open, but stable, incisive, secure performance, that has the courage to outstrip the so called post-modernist settings that are played, many times flimsily, with the idea that “the message is that there is no message”. Through this Suicide, Felix Alexa suggests a reading that has a message, but a message whose depth has echoes beyond the theatre hall, because is the fruit of a successful meeting between a compact and subtle text and a similar director’s vision.
The latter one is visible under the spotlights or at the candle’s light, where the actors evolve and really play along, filling a space created by the scene designer Diana Ruxandra Ion, a space that is also incisive, bounded and at the same time unbounded, like the message of the performance of the Bucharest National Theatre is hosting, therefore, one of the best performances this institution has produced in the last six years, in which the actors truly speak the same language, both in the group or two characters scenes. All of them, from Dan Puric, the performer of the main character, to the actor that plays the last second part, are indeed in the same play. Astonishing, through its form and content, is the scene between Podsekalnikov and the Child (Nikita Dembinski), in which the impetuous is settled down. Another moving moment that precedes the suicide’s hour established by other people, in which life and death, good and evil, reality and appearance are tensely dosed, is the scene taken from a dream, or from a nightmare, in which the “suicide” hears obsessively the voice that encourages him to make the final gesture, urging him „Drink, Podsekalnikov, drink, drink, drink! ” On the other hand, the gentle humor of the household scenes between the protagonist, Maria Lukianovna (Ileana Olteanu) and Serafima Ilinicina (Adela Mărculescu), clips simply and expressively, at a smaller scale, the human world.
And each character on the stage answers the question which is the title of this comment, and their reactions build up an answer which the audience takes with them after the performance. Or they leave it in the hall, because, anyway, it is an answer that they find in the world they live in.
Written by Dana Ionescu
Translated by Ioana Nita, MTTLC, 2nd year
*lebăr = a kind of food made up of liver, pork, onion, salt, vinegar and pepper.