Turandot or the dictatorship of computer games

At Sibiu, the Theater ‘Radu Stanca’ started the fall with a miniseason. Thirteen plays performed in nine days. Among them, three premieres: ‘Turandot’ staged by Andriy Zholdak, ‘LaBute & Friends’, staged by Radu Alexandru Nica and ‘Oscar and the Lady in Pink’ staged and interpreted by Diana Fufezan. In addition, a return of all to awarded Silviu Purcărete’s ‘Faust’ – the first plays after the Edinburgh success.

Letters to God

Just a few words about ‘Oscar and the Lady in Pink’ by Eric Emmanuel-Schmitt, staged by Diana Fufezan. It stays on as one of the most beautiful texts of contemporary literature, so touching that it lives naturally. The child ‘sentenced’ to die of cancer, but who, as Prince Charming in fairy-tales, ‘grows’ in one day as others would in ten years, lives his life on fast-forward. Watched and guided on its twisted paths by the Lady in Pink. The letters to God, ‘sent’ each day = ten years, represent the story of an ‘accomplished’ life… Diana Fufezan leads gracefully and discreetly the characters – the child Oscar and the Lady in Pink – yet allowing to the magic of the text to spread more in the theatre. And she is not mistaken.

From Gozzi to Andriy Zholdak

Princess Turandot story set up by Andriy Zholdak on the stage of the theatre in Sibiu was one of the most expected premieres in the fall, invited in the National Theatre Festival in Bucharest at the beginning of November, at Essen, within the programme European Capital of Culture 2010, and at Fidena Theater Festival in Bochum, Germany.

How much and what died in the heart of Carlo Gozzi’s princess under Zholdak stage and how much he reinvented her or he made her reinvent herself in the world of the first decade of the third millenium III is an answer which, perhaps, must not be sought … The more so as in Turandot story, ‘read’ by Zholdak, hardly can somebody loom a happy end beyond the reconciliations and the so-called love. Which does not conquer all, but, on the contrary is defeated, annihilated, changed into a self-destruction tool.

Zholdak’s world scarcely bears resemblance with the Chinese princess world, who sends to death her wooers who can not solve the three riddles, the insurmountable trial towards  her. Zholdak’s world is the entire universe collapsed in history abysses, where are chosen the paths from Chaos toward Order. In the heart of the earth, with latticed windows and a chandelier hanging from a thread about which from time to time dust and boulders are flowing, a blockhouse springs up where the history of any totalitarian regime seems stuffed and in the same time condemned to repete itself Sisyphus like. A nightmare, with its roots deeply thrusted in the chimera of the uncounscious … And a forest (too) thick in symbols.

In short, the tale inspired by the collection of the French orientalist Petis de la Croix, ‘The thousand and one days’, and changed into a play by Carlo Gozzi, is only an excuse for Andriy Zholdak’s stage, that disjoints from the text using commedia dell’arte elements, translating words into images and gestures, all with a well-marked symbolic charge. Princess Turandot’s hand is promised by her father to the wooer who succeeds in finding answers to the three challenging riddles. Failure is paid with their lives. The fourth ‘lover’ is prince Calaf, who changes the rules of the game. He solves the three riddles, but afterwards he refuses the princess’s hand, challenging her to find his name. If she succeeds, he will volunteer to death. His courage or something else within Calaf makes Turandot to fall in love with him.

At the Theater in Sibiu the tale is decrypted in another key. Altoum’s Chinese kingdom takes over the symbols of fascism. The princess Turandot wears the swastika on her hand. The German planes projected in the background isolate the world on the stage all the more, in non-time and non-space. And the beautiful tale full of trials to which end there should be waiting the intact end ‘They lived happily…’ unfolds as if told by giant-children, with half-robotic hearts, perverted and incapable to understand its sweetness.

You can not enter Zholdak’s universe unless you let yourself possessed deliberately by a demon of cruelty and non-innocence, a demon who forces you to see the tale reflected in distorting mirrors, where the heart-spirit plunges in all in a corporality that absorbs the frail, the femininity, the childhood, the tenderness and any other positive features that can fit in a woman’s soul. You can not enter Zholdak universe but with the key he slides you since the very first scene. Yet, you may see in the last scene that the key received does not fit. Of course the set, as conceived by Dragoş Buhagiar, is the perfect space to create the new type of contemporary tale, so trendy and so well perveted by computer games. In the role of Turandot, Ema Veţean (in the play I saw) is the character who drops directly from the virtual world, leaving Gozzi’s ice-hearted princess somewhere far away,  without showing any sign that she met her on the way. As she is thought by Zholdak, the new Turandot is rather a mixture between a woman-robot and a feminist avant la lettre, a horsewoman created on computer, in whose veins there is no blood, a heartless body. The relationship with father Altoum is perhaps too thinly woven, always at the limit between incest and dependence, and here and there insuficiently motivated of the stage. Constantin Chiriac’s Altoum is a sad king, who looks for a rescue place at the end of history, a tender dictator, a paradox in himself, the last of these representatives of mankind, locked up in the blockhouse as a black replication of Noah’s ark, the last of them, therefore, who knows grains of love laws. A beautifully drawn caricature of a tender parent, who wages war against the entire world for one of his daughter’s whims.

The scene where Calaf (Florin Coşuleţ) makes his appearance – the prince meant to conquer the heart of princess Turandot – and the scene of passing the trials are built gradually. But the outburst produced as the last correct answer is given is equivalent to a cataclysm, it has nothing in itself out of the liberating power of love which overcomes the limits. It is a confrontation of forces as between an Adam and an Eve who do not understand their roles and quarel in an anti-paradise. At the antipodes, or in mirror, as a replication of Calaf princely noble birth, there is the soldier-dog, the strange fool, the man who lost his humanity, the soldier ‘under times’ and changed into a killing animal…

Zholdak world resembles a nightmare where on the sixth day God mistakes his creation and forgets to endow it with love grace, taking away even the right to win it. Yet, started  from his sleep, he repairs his creation, but in a sloppy way, and in the last hour the woman falls for the man … Zholdak’s happy end is false and needle-sharped, where the sail-needle penetrates the scene and breaks through the wall.

Thought with a mathematical accuracy, the play of the theatre ‘Radu Stanca’, so equal to itself, so unitary, stays so far away, as if the angel was missing. As a Psalm dedicated to nobody, as a world where the creator forgot to pour the last and the essential ingredient, as a computer game …

Translated by Zenovia Popa, MTTLC, 2nd  year


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