KOSOVO THEATRE REVIEWS
Our Son, Heartefact
Reviewed by Mirela Gracanac
Who is our son?
Imagine that you have a close family member whose sexual orientation you cannot understand, that you cannot find a way to deal with or to accept. The play Our Son shows how this problem is (not) solved.
Our Son is about a family that suffers from the excessive influence of social constructs, especially common the Balkans. It is the story of a gay son who finds and accepts himself, but his parents struggle to do the same. The play's author Patrik Lazić brings many autobiographical elements into the story,
Entering the space where the performance will take place, I get the impression that there is no stage to represent a limited space for the realization of the story. In front of me I see furniture, dishes on the table, TV. It is as if I stepped out of my own and into someone else's home, with a completely similar living room. Before the beginning and during the performance, the actors - Dragana Varagić, Aleksandar Đinđić and Amar Ćorović - sit in the audience, which makes the atmosphere extremely intimate. The consequence of the removal of barriers between the stage and those who are observers of the events on it is the direct interaction with the audience - the audience becomes not only someone who learns about the family's past, but also someone who relives it together with the actors.
The play begins with a scene between the father and the mother in which they discuss the problem they have and their attempt to solve that problem. Lunch is ready and waiting, but are mother and father ready to welcome their son?
The emotional chaos that prevails on the stage before he arrives and the vicissitudes that arise when he arrives, culminate in a conflict that becomes intractable judging by the play's ending.
This early part, without the son on stage, is built on the template of a failed couple from the Balkans. While the mother is sick and awaiting surgery, the father is going through a mid-life crisis with a younger wife, dying his hair and wearing a youthful wardrobe inappropriate for his age. The parents do not understand each other, and this rift between them does not allow them to understand their son. They try to find the to the question of why he is the way he is through trivial literature from the field of popular psychology, in a book which says that homosexuality is a disease and a disorder that can be cured. That the mother and father lack the power to understand each other is captured in a single moment: they are arguing, but they are not facing each other.
The son returns from abroad. The mother and father believe that they have managed to find ways to make him into the son they want and to resolve all the disagreements that arose in the past. What we actually see following the son's appearance on stage is his ironic playing with their superficial attempts to approach him.
The book by Richard Cohen that was supposed to help them to solve their "problem" becomes the son's tool for confronting his parents with the reality that they should accept.
It is interesting that in the past they reacted completely different to the uniqueness and differences in their son's behaviour, for example, while the father resented his wish to wear women's clothes sometimes, the mother did not see anything wrong in it. In the end, however, they find themselves in the same position: they want to heal their son, not simply love him. One of the ways they refuse to accept their son is that they don't want to call his partner Nikola by his name, instead they stay in their comfort zone in which Nikola is just their son's roommate.
The performance is meta-theatrical, and the actors themselves hint at it: at one point, Dragana Varagić, as the mother, even says that she will not play in it anymore. It seems to me that with this device the director is referring to the parents' conviction that they are in a situation they cannot control, a situation in which they are puppets in the story. Two things are emphasized by this: the parents do not want to accept their son and his choices, and yet he is not a victim in this situation because he has managed to accept himself and live his life exactly the way he wants.
The attitude that the parents and the son take during the play changes according to the development of the story. Although the parents initially have the impression that they have the situation under control and that the plans they have for their son will succeed, with his appearance on the scene, he slowly takes control. With the emotional pressure they experience, they fail to keep a calm tone: the mother screams because she was never a good enough wife and because she was perhaps too good a mother, the son knocks over the salad bowl not because he is losing control of his behaviour but because he wants to interrupt their absurd arguments and show them precisely that control is in his hands. What is clear is the father's position in this situation: the greater condemnation from the son belongs to him.
The main defence mechanism becomes humour with which he tries to overcome mistakes from the past, as well as those he is making now. While the mother and father use humour to avoid accepting the truth, the son uses it to bring the truth to the surface, with a lot of irony and sarcasm.
What cannot be overlooked is that the son is actually the one in control of the whole situation. At the very beginning of the play, before the beginning of the dialogue, he turns on the lights aimed at the stage, and at the very end turns them off. Reminiscences of the past become a play by itself directed by the son, like Shakespeare's plays within a play, in which the audience gets the roles assigned to them by the son and relives the painful past of this family.
At the very end, something like a twist happens, but not in the true sense of the word. Then it only becomes clear to us that everything they talked aboutit had the function of showing the parents who their son is. He lied to them that Nikola came with him from America, but they only found out after they resolutely refused to receive him in the house. With this, the emotional gap between parent and son becomes unbridgeable - he leaves them broken because they have fallen into the trap of their own delusion, and he leaves satisfied that he managed to make a breakthrough in their understanding, but with a bitter taste in his mouth because it had to be done that way.
Produced b: Heartefact Fund//Written and directed by: Patrik Lazić // With: Dragana Varagić, Aleksandar Đinđić, Amar Ćorović
Reviewed by Bora Shpuza
A Tale of Two (or More) Albanians
And just like that, I went to prison. It was an act of my own volition, for prison is where this play was set. Not only is Death Hour set in prison, it is also performed in a former prison, recently turned into the Prison Museum of Prishtina. An intimidating environment for showcasing one’s art that almost felt like a dare.
Setting and ambiance can be everything in a play, the hook that grabs one’s attention as a theatregoer. I usually take my time diving in, revelling in the atmosphere. But on this occasion, I had no time to adjust – the use of the space, with the audience sat in the prison yard, surrounded by high brick wall and bars. was brutally direct, captivating, and compelling.
As the inmates enter the yard, I can almost the taste of metal, feel the barbwire, the tin cans, handcuffs and pliers. Suddenly, there is loud cackling and smashing, followed by a string of complaints from one particular inmate about how he has not been recently beaten by the guards “Am I no longer relevant?” he quips. Perhaps.
The prisoners are political. The same is true of their crimes. And, as luck would have it, so are their names: Fatmir from Kosova and Fatmir from Albania (fatmir means ‘the lucky one’ in Albanian). “Some luck, eh?” they chuckle tearfully at one point, as they hug on the prisoner exchange bridge between Albania and Kosovo… But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Let me supply some context. It is the 1980s and communist Albania is going about its normal business of imprisoning folk who so much as breathe or eat wrong. In communist Kosovo, then still part of Yugoslavia, Albanians are being politically persecuted by the Serbian regime. One Fatmir has fled Albania to escape Enver Hoxha’s callous regime and has been captured by Serbian military. His namesake has fled Kosova to escape Serbian oppression and to see the “great leader who will unite all Albanians”, as he puts it enthusiastically, before being captured by the Albanian border police. The mutual misperceptions between the two men are baffling, despite the proximity of the two places. The ardour of the Kosovar Fatmir is juxtaposed with the exasperation of the Albanian Fatmir, as both men try and fail to make the other one understand.
Paradoxically, both are sent back in a prisoner exchange process which, to my mind, is the pinnacle of the play. Adrian Morina brings an almost unreal eagerness to his role as Fatmir from Kosovo, a man fiercely in love with his idealistic vision of beautiful Albania and its vigorous leader. At the same time, Arben Derhemi is remarkable in his depiction of Fatmir from Albania and his double drama: suffering under communism and having to explain it to a fellow Albanian. Both find themselves in a kind of surreal no man’s land and neither of them can make sense of it.
Albulena Kryeziu-Bokshi brilliantly portrays a school teacher with the soul of a poet, blamed for the ‘apple’ of discord. Arrested for acknowledging that the apple she bought at the farmers’ market was bad, she is put on trial where the presiding judge (once again played by Arben Derhemi) gives an extraordinary impersonation of the former Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha. His voice, stance, and overall persona brings back chilling memories to those who lived in Hoxha’s time, the self-righteousness and ruthlessness of it all being all too striking.
Next comes a scene of torture, a staple of the communist prison system that spares no one. A man is being electrocuted for having seen the dictator’s infected mouth in a dream. It is a scene worthy of George Orwell. He spits blood and barely manages to ask: “How do you even know about my dream?” “We know everything”, giggles the torturer in response, as the executioner proceeds with his craft and fills out the necessary paperwork.
The scene then shifts to the Dubrava prison in Kosovo, where Albanian prisoners are mistreated, beaten, and starved. After being lured out into the prison yard, under the false pretence of their upcoming release, the prisoners are shot in cold blood by the Serbian military. The real-life event took place in May 1999, where Dubrava prison was the scene of an unprecedented massacre. On that fateful day, hundreds of Albanian prisoners were killed and wounded, while countless others were taken away and never heard from again.
The small cast of actors shifted flawlessly from one role to the other, complete with immaculate Gheg and Tosk dialects mastered to perfection. Attaining the level of accent, pitch, tone and stress of a native speaker of either dialect is a challenge to be reckoned with. Seasoned actor Kushtrim Sheremeti does a commendable job in this regard, and the nuance he adds to his roles is outstanding.
As these stories unfolded before the audience, who are sat in the prison yard under a starry October sky, the ghosts of communisms past came alive in more ways than one. ‘Communisms’ is not an error. Albania and Kosovo had different communisms and misled perceptions due to the propaganda machine of the time. This is illustrated by the extent of misconstructions in Kosovo about the state of things in Albania, where the government ruled with an iron fist, while Albanians in Kosovo believed that Albania lived with a ‘golden spoon to its mouth’. Nevertheless, one sentence helps to get some clarity. “You are being terrorized by Serbs, but we are being terrorized by our own!” – Fatmir from Albania wails at Fatmir from Kosovo at the prisoner exchange point.
As I realized that these are only a few out of countless stories from those dark times, I had newfound appreciation for the writers who picked and put together these accounts. There is no doubt that Ulpianë Maloku and Agnesa Mehanolli did thorough research, including interviews with survivors on both sides of the border. These young writers are very talented at squeezing out salient bits of horror from real life events, but also adding comedic bits to highlight the absurdity of it all. The degree of detail is palpable.
Theatre of the absurd has nothing on Death Hour, as it is too real for comfort. As the play neared its end, black-and-white footage of trials and executions in Albania kept rolling on the back wall, including statistics on the killings, incarcerations, internments and persecutions. Then the names rolled out of prisoners killed at Dubrava prison in Kosovo, as a further wake-up call to this reality of the macabre that unjustly absorbed so much humanity. Three decades of democracy in Albania and two decades of freedom in Kosovo have shown that trauma still lingers. These stories must continue to be shared, because history matters and remembrance is key.
“I never knew these things”, one audience member sitting next to me whispered towards the end of the play.
But I knew them all along. It still feels like yesterday.
Produced by Bokshi Theatre Company & Artpolis
Written by: Ulpianë Maloku & Agnesa Mehanolli // Directed by: Ilir Bokshi // With: Albulena Kryeziu-Bokshi, Kushtrim Sheremeti, Adrian Morina, Arben Derhemi // Costumes: Vesa Kraja // Set design: Bekim Korça // Composer: Memli Kelmendi // Lights: Skënder Latifi
Husino's Miner, Theatre Dodona
Reviewed by Bora Shpuza
“History is hysteria, she is hungry, and her food is all of us”
Husino’s Miner is a mixed-media and multimedia production that marries visuals, sound, and lights around a striking figure created by the contemporary artist Marc Einsiedel. A lot was poured into this 25-minute sensory experience based on events that occurred over a century ago.
The statue of the fighter readying himself for battle stands center stage. In a victorious gesture, he is holding up a rifle in his right hand. He is wearing a miner’s helmet, and a closer look at his left hand reveals he is also holding a pick.
Wrapped in pieces of broken mirror, the figure lights up the place. Like a disco ball, he scatters sparkles all over the theatre, as he sits on a rotating pedestal amid a cloud of flickering silver. Akin to Sufi whirling, the figure's movements are reminiscent of a dancing dervish trying to achieve dharma. In tandem with the visuals, the music is also reminiscent of 1980-es disco era when glitter and shine were en vogue.
The performance certainly added a special touch to the Kosovo Theatre Showcase, the annual cultural event, which brings together theatre producers, writers and critics from all over the world, and which was organized to perfection by Qendra Multimedia, with exciting opportunities for local productions and international guest plays, as well as for theatre people to connect and network. Husino’s Miner stood out, between the plays and panel discussions which took place throughout the week.
As the figure moved in a constant circular motion on its rotating pedestal, there came a ‘boom!’ and a thunderous voice begins to tell a tale over 100 years old. The actor Dražen Pavlović narrates the remarkable story of how the miners of Husino, a village near Tuzla in Bosnia and Herzegovina, went on strike and fought for their rights in the 1920s. How they rebelled bravely and selflessly against industrial tyranny and miserable working conditions. How the village and its people were almost completely destroyed by the troops sent to crush the rebellion. The narration in Bosnian brings a down-to-earth and intimate quality to the performance.
The artist who created this piece, Tuzla native Branko Šimić, makes brilliant use of mixed art techniques that serve multiple purposes. The rotating contraption is symbolic of the survivor spirit of Husino under the ever-watching eyes of the miner. He is trying to figure out where and when he belongs, having witnessed the battles of old, the transitions, and the challenges of new.
The broken glass projects the deconstruction of value systems in the past and present, and possibly a splintered warning of future uncertainty. There is a clear post-modern take on the constant flow of life across the human stories that happened around him. The dynamic visuals and quasi-metallic sound of music and narration bring a silvery quality to everything in my head.
The voice continues, profound and powerful, reverberating around the theatre walls. The miner is nostalgic over “good old times”, when everything happened around him: public events, workers’ gatherings, secret kisses of youth. Reflecting on the passage of time, he laments “those who have long perished and died, but also today’s residents of Husino”, drawing a parallel between the joint predicament of past and present.
Though static, he has witnessed transition, immigration, and political tumult. He is puzzled at the unsteady nature of work in modern times, seeing as the former socialist factory buildings around him have been transformed into capitalist business centres. Above all, he wonders about the shift in values and the post-modernist morality of the human soul, due to the fast-paced dynamics of everything and everyone around him. He calls them all “part of my organism”, like the broken mirrors on his body which have been stitched back together to represent shattered reality.
The miner is the hero fallen in battle and reborn, and it becomes clear that everything that happened over the years has been mirrored onto him and back – a literal and metaphorical tool for reflection.
The discourse turns philosophical, as we are told “history is hysteria and she is hungry, she needs food and her food is all of us”. A dazzling realization and an arresting statement. Meanwhile, the unassuming 1980s disco music has been replaced by a dramatic soundtrack with contemporary vibes credited to renowned Bosnian musician Mirza Rahmanović-Indigo, a multi-disciplinary artist and composer. The tune now follows the perpetual circles of the miner’s statue, and sounds continue to dance around him like silver fireflies, almost playful. It appears as if this creature’s journey is a perpetuum mobile of sorts, a stagnant view of the world literally set in monolithic stone. Nevertheless, the evolution of this unusual character is unexpected. Despite all the unanswered questions, he saves the best for last – optimism springs forth along with the realization that he is part of today, hence part of change.
Towards the end, the voice of Dražen Pavlović returned with new elan inviting the audience to come take a selfie with the statue. “Take a photo with me and save it for 100 years. See you in 2122!” the voice roared, as audience members prepared to climb the stage. My photo is on the cloud, and that cloud has a silver lining.
Produced by: JU Muzej Istocne Bosne (Bosnia and Herzegovina) & Krass Kultur Crash
Festival Hamburg & Kampnagel Hamburg (Germany) / Duration: 25 min
Author: Branko Šimić // Statue making: Marc Einsiedel // Music: Mirza Rahmanović-Indigo // Actor: Dražen Pavlović // Assistant author: Alen Šimic // Producer: Ljubiša Veljković // Marketing: Darko Marković // Technical realisation: Dalibor Brkić // Photo and video: Mario Ilić & Mario Stjepić
Top Girls, Dodona Theatre
Reviewed by Mirela Gracanac
Where do women in the Balkans, especially in Kosovo, stand? To reflect the position of women in the region it can be helpful to look elsewhere. Caryl Churchill’s 1982 play Top Girls was presented as part of the Kosovo Theatre Showcase in a production directed by Skurte Aliu.
Although the play is primarily related to the socio-economic situation in Britain in the 80s of the last century and the appointment of Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister, Aliu’s staging managed to fit the play into the context of the life of a modern woman and to give an impression of the genesis of women's position in different social roles.
When the protagonist Marlene points a lamp at individuals in the audience at the very beginning of the play, she breaks the barrier and suggests to the audience that the question on stage will be a question for all of us, and not some story from a book that should entertain us.
Top Girls is a play about different women in different times, but also about strong women who managed to overcome the gender roles of the time in which they lived. The character of Marlene, a successful 20th century modern business-woman who has succeeded in a male-dominated business world, holds the story together. The first act brings on stage five women from different historical periods: Isabella Bird, a 19th world traveler and writer, Lady Nijo, who had an extramarital union with the Japanese emperor, and later became a Buddhist nun, Dull Gret, famed as the subject of a painting by Bruegal, Pope Joan, who became a Pope during the Middle Ages, and Patient Griselda, a fictional character from medieval known for her endless patience.
Marlene has received a promotion at her place of work, an employment agency, and decides to invite these five women from five different historical periods to help her celebrate, during which they present their individual stories on stage. This combination of women and their stories, some real and some fictional, show us what it means to be a woman in the 13th century who wants to be educated, or what it means to be a model for a great painter, also evokes certain feelings that Marlene carries within herself. The appearance of these women on stage, the way they present the story, their expressions and demeanour give the impression of the power they have due to their success in overcoming social constraints.
The dance performance that divides the first and the second scene, unites femininity and anger. That opens up the question of how the unity functions in regard to what a woman is and can be, and what is required of her, and what limits her social position. The first scene is a very dynamic presentation of the fate of each of these women, and the expressiveness and enthusiasm with which they present their stories gives this scene a somewhat grotesque charge.
The dance sequence exudes a struggle between femininity and the attitude that the women have while dancing, trying to bring out the unity of the female body on the one hand and a masculine posture and attitude on the other.
After the dance sequence, there is a scene where Marlene comes to visit her sister and her daughter Angie. The entire conversation between these three women is coloured by tension and ambiguity. To understand the play, it is necessary to understand the social positions which Marlene and her sister possess. While Marlene is a woman who refuses to conform to the imperative of social roles even though she has had to pay a price that even a successful businesswoman cannot avoid, her sister is a classic representative of the working class and the domestic mentality. In their discussion, long-buried problems emerge into unfixable deviations.
Although Marlene is the epitome of power and strength throughout the play, at the end we also see her insecurities and regrets regardless of the success she has achieved. This conversation brings the unraveling of family relationships in which the roles of a mother are consciously taken but never fully accepted.
The very end of the play brings a sense of incompleteness, a lack of concrete conclusion - while Marlene drinks another glass of wine, Angie wakes up, and in a somnambulant and almost hypnotized state, several times verbalizes the feeling of fear and chills that overwhelm her. Does such an ending symbolize the constant of a woman's life, in which she, whether successful or not, lives out a predestined life?
It is interesting to note that much of the central scene of the original play – set in Marlene’s employment agency - was omitted from this performance. It seems the director wanted to illustrate deviations that are especially important for the role of Kosovar women, so I can assume that the scenes he focused on were crucial and sufficient to open up and problematize the issue to its limit.
This was the only play by a Western author at the showcase. It is interesting that one of the guests at Marlene's dinner is a Japanese concubine, which could refer to the relations of the West towards the Orient, as well as in the context of the performance of this piece in the Balkans. We can find a connection with the relationship of the West towards the Balkans as a place beyond the boundaries of culture, but with the same problems.
Produced by: Dodona City Theatre of Prishtina and Artpolis//Written by: Caryl Churchill // Directed by: Shkurtë Aliu // With: Donikë Ahmeti, Vjosë Tasholli, Molikë Maxhuni, Zhaneta Xhemajli, Zana Berisha, Blerta Gubetini // Set design: Bekim Korça // Costumes: Arbnor Brahimi // Music: Trimor Dhomi // Choreography: Robert Nuha // Lights: Skënder Latifi
Pas'Humbja, Teatri Oda
Reviewed by Bora Shpuza
At first sight, it felt like a modern take on A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Among the perpetual frolicking of colors, bodies, sounds and shades, words and shapes waltzed across the stage. Rainbow threads framed the view and pervaded the actors’ outfits.
Positively cheerful, n’est- ce pas? Except this was not a comedy, and it was not Shakespeare. It was a staging of Pas'Humbja (The Afterloss), a recent production directed and written by Florent Mehmeti, co-authored by Lirak Çelaj and Matt Opatrny, a multi-layered account of soul searching and coming to grips with loss, to put it mildly.
This initial sense of disingenuous bliss quickly gave way to something darker, complete with low lights. We felt ourselves sinking deeper into our seats, as the profound anguish of loss and the seeping
grief of longing sprung forth across the characters’ faces and bodies – as the performers constantly vibrated to rhythmic drumbeats.
Several stories were intertwined here. The frenzied swirls of a distressed couple struggling with pangs of guilt over the loss of their beloved child. The sporadic quivers of a man lamenting his departed friend and a woman mourning her departed sanity. The erratic jolts of a girl who has lost her lover, and her static gaze
into the void – the rainbow threads of her messy floor-length tresses seemed an elongated projection of
Simultaneous waves of movement were interrupted by occasional scenes of dialogue, which added awareness and depth to each story, giving us synchronized accounts of pain: the kind of pain that hurts in so many ways and hits each of us differently. And, like us, the excruciating process of each character tripped through agony and denial, clinging on to the memory of lost loves, desperately seeking closure, seeking hope.
One can only hope.
Produced by: Teatri Oda// written by: Florent Mehmeti // Co-authors: Lirak Çelaj & Matt Opatrny // With: Albina Krasniqi, Alketa Sylaj, Arbesa Hysenaj, Ermal Sadiku, Hajat Toçilla, Labinot Raci, Margarita Ukaj, Qëndresa Jashari, Redon Kika, Tahir Beqiri, Zana Berisha // Assistant director: Daniela Markaj // Visual concept and light design: Yann Perregaux // Music: Donika Rudi // Singers: Kaltrina Miftari, Qëndresa Jashari, Zana Berisha // Costumes: Martina Shtufi // Technicians: Mursel Bekteshi, Pajtim Krasniqi, Bujar Bekteshi
Review by Oriada Dajko
The spirit of the place is in the play
It's almost 9 o'clock on a cold evening at the end of October in Pristina. An audience made up of people from many different countries is waiting in the yard of a former prison which has been transformed into the museum "Prison of Ideal", a space in which, according to the information, thousands of prisoners have experienced inhumane treatment. As the audience enter the yard, they encounter prisoners within the cells and their screams accompany them until they find a place to sit. The audience is shocked even before the main play begins.
Death Hour is directed by Ilir Bokshi and written by two female dramatists Ulpianë Maloku and Agnesa Mehanolli who collected many stories of prisoners in dictatorial Albania and Kosovo during the Yugoslavia regime. These stories reflect many scenes of torture, and humiliation of human beings, giving the feeling of terror, but the black humor is the element that makes the play more complex.
Death Hour flows intensely. It features many absurd stories. Could there be anything more absurd than an investigative file with hundreds of pages on a woman who did not like an apple? But in a country like communist Albania where even tastes are controlled by the law, not liking an apple is a serious crime because the regime has convinced people that everything in the country is perfect, and nothing can be refused, not even a rotten apple.
In other scenes, we see characters tortured because they dare to tell people of their dreams, and others because they have done nothing that can be considered a crime, only that the regime needs a victim as innocent as possible to increase the terror and silence in the population.
What stands out is that the actors who play the victims also playing the perpetrators because, in a totalitarian country where evil does not come from outside but from within, it is difficult to distinguish the victim from the perpetrator. All people play at least once in their life the role of the victim, the perpetrator, the spy, and the judge, and so on.
Idealizing life beyond the borders
In one scene, two men with the same bad luck - and with the same name, Fatmir, which in Albanian ironically means “good luck” - happen to cross a border on opposite sides of a bridge. Both of them are Albanians, one from Kosovo and one from Albania, but they know nothing about what is happening in each other’s countries, for the two fugitives, the suffering beyond the border always seems easier to bear than their own. In a narrow space, while arguing, they try changing places. For Fatmir from Albania, it is better to die in the hands of foreign enemies than to know that evil comes from his own people. However, for the Fatmir from Kosovo, it is better to die by the hands of people of his own nation, than to live as a slave. He has only one dream: to see the Albanian dictator, the man who gives hope to the Albanians outside the borders of Albania, therefore every crime made by the Albanian dictatorship is unbelievable to him, or justified in the name of hope. Give him the hope he needs and he will justify everything.
Elements lost in the translation
Although the public didn’t need to know all the context and details of the theatrical piece in order to feel the emotions and appreciate it, some elements that added value to this play were discernable only by the Albanian audience or foreigners who know the Albanian history and language.
Some important elements of the show were contained in the dialogue, in black humor, and in the actors' interpretation. Though the show was performed in Albanian with English subtitles but for those who don’t know the Albanian language, nor the cultural and historical context of the country, part of that black humor was lost in the translation process. Some of this humor is very culturally dependent and some of the audience didn’t have the opportunity to enjoy the humor in the dialog in the same way as native speakers.
This can also be said of the actor Arben Derhemi, who in his performance as the judge giving the absurd sentences, imitates the expressions and the voice of the former Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha. Though Hoxha did not participate directly in the investigations, tortures, or murder of people, every evil came from him or was done in his name.
During the play, documentary TV footage was shown as evidence that these absurd scenes are not only fiction but that they are based on true stories and have real victims. The choice of showing these images illustrates that the play did not have the primary purpose of conveying artistic pleasure to the audience, but to raise awareness of a social aspects that are still not known to a part of the public. Even though this documentary footage was intended to enrich the play, the information was shown without an English translation when most of the audience was international.
Although Death Hour set out to present the stories of political prisoners in Albania and Kosovo, almost all the scenes are related to totalitarianism in Albania, except for the scene in Dubrava prison. That scene itself is good, but since it is the only one outside the historical and geographical context of all other scenes in the play, it confuses the audience by changing the time and place without providing sufficient explanation.
The only country where God no longer exists
The last scene showing the tragic death of Efta, the only female victim among the play's characters, whose story connects the scenes, touches on the relationship of communist Albania with religion. Albania was declared an atheist country in 1967, banning all forms of religious practice, destroying cult objects, erasing religious texts, and persecuting the clergy. Efta, portrayed by Albulena Kryeziu, is also forbidden from making her last prayer before she dies, her end is even more tragic only because the guards saw her praying. The religious element in these scenes and the inhumane torture that led to Efta’s death seem to have been inspired by the story of the only female martyr of the Catholic Church in Albania, Marie Tuçi.
Some victims are condemned because they doubt, some because they dream, and some others because they still believe. In a country where evil prevails and the Great Leader has been transformed into the New God, the victims are not even allowed to believe, and by forbidding them to believe, they are also prevented from hoping that justice will ever be done for them.
Produced by Bokshi Theatre Company & Artpolis//Written by: Ulpianë Maloku & Agnesa Mehanolli // Directed by: Ilir Bokshi // With: Albulena KryeziuBokshi, Kushtrim Sheremeti, Adrian Morina, Arben Derhemi // Costumes: Vesa Kraja // Set design: Bekim Korça // Composer: Memli Kelmendi // Lights: Skënder Latif
Reviewed by Florida Kastrati
When you are accustomed to sharing your life with another living being, the realization that one day you will have to go on living without them, is one of the hardest things you can experience as a human. Especially when they go away suddenly and unexpectedly that your life takes a 360-degree turn.
The play Father and Father talks about this turn. It becomes even more painful when we come to understand that this loss was caused by other human beings. The drama openly laments the missing persons of Kosovo’s war and their to-this-day unresolved fate.
It is a touching piece that deeply affects its audience. Jeton Neziraj’s text, which slowly reveals its epiphany, is directed by Kushtrim Koliqi, with music composed by Adhurim Grezda.
Every day is the same for the three members of the family in the play. The actors Ilire Vinca as the mom Sara, Bujar Ahmeti as the father, and Kosovare Krasniqi as daughter Lola. The actors create an engaging atmosphere with their performances, with their words, gestures and their tears, making it possible for the audience to feel like an organic part of the drama throughout the production.
The main character Sara continues to give her husband drugs for his incessant chest pain as if he were still there. She refuses to accept that her husband ceased to be a living member of the family quite a long time ago. She speaks for all the families of the missing people and wants to show us how painfully absurd it is to know that the people most dear to you have been added to the “missing people” list but that you have never seen any material proof that they are gone.
Father and Father shows how painful and traumatic the undefined status of the missing people is for their families, and how knowing their epilogue, their fate, would lighten the load of the pain for the people left living. Since people cannot live in the agony of waiting for too long, and this non-responsiveness on the part of the institutions only adds to this agony.
Time doesn’t stop passing for Sara and Lola, but it does stop for the father. He has remained young in Sara’s and Lola’s memories. Because he was young when the war took him, and he became one of the 1600 people who are still missing in Kosovo since 1998-99.
Sara is a seamstress who has a regular, low-paid job in fabric and also cleans a house two times a week. She’s the breadwinner of the family and does all she can to help her daughter to study and get a degree at university.
The play brings the discussion of the fate of the missing people into wider society, since this has remained an unsolved political issue that has dragged on for many years now, as the families of the affected wait in sorrow and terror for an answer. It is a play that should be shown to those who hold the answers about the fate of the missing people in Kosovo and in every place in which such cruelties occurred.
Living inside the world of this play, even for less than two hours, one is able to feel the nightmare that families of the missing people in Kosovo have lived with on a daily basis for 22 years. A nightmare translated into a psychological terror that will haunt generation after generation until they finally get their answer.
Sara’s husband was a geodetic engineer who struggled to get a job. Neziraj’s play also critiques the governance of institutions and their poor handling of employees’ conditions. This theme of unemployment and unsatisfactory job conditions is a major concern of our country, and one of the reasons why our population continues to migrate to this day.
As Sara continues her life with the presence of her husband, Lola has found someone and she is getting married, and as a result she will leave the house. On her special day she wears a black dress instead of a white one, and that day Sara seem to accept that her husband is not actually present in their house. Sara has to accept that she will have to live alone once Lola is gone for her new life and that no matter how they want it, the father is not coming back again.
The play is staged in a small room on the second floor of a building of Prishtina’s Ethnological Museum. It is small and has limited seats, which only adds to the intimacy of the play. The actors manage to hook the audience’s attention for the majority of the play’s running time and the atmosphere of the space contributes to the rise in emotions as the play’s revelation is slowly unveiled. We start to comprehend why the actor playing the father is younger than the actress playing the mother. We understand that it wasn’t comic misunderstanding when the father goes to get a birth certificate and instead gets a death certificate. These issues of his are still considered an “administrative problem” and his fate, along with that of many others, has remained unresolved due to slow-moving hands.
We realise that all the scenes in which the father is present in fact happened only in the mind of his family members. They are just fragments of Sara’s past, uncomplete memories that will continue to haunt her and the members of the missing people’s families until the relevant institutions treat them with the dignity with which they deserve to be treated.
Produced by Integra // Written by: Jeton Neziraj // Directed by: Kushtrim Koliqi // With: Ilire Vinca, Bujar Ahmeti, Kosovare Krasniqi // Music: Adhurim Grezda // Lights: Skënder Latifi // Costumes: Njomëza Luci // Set: Mentor Berisha // Assistant director: Kaltërim Balaj // Video: Leart Rama // Design: Florian Mehmeti
Our Son, Heartefact
Review by Adrian Zalla
Produced by Heartefact, performed at the National Museum, Prishtina, as part of the Kosovo Theatre Showcase
Seeking love and acceptance, not a cure
Is a hug a sign of acceptance? Of love and of being proud of the person whom you are hugging and not letting go?
A living room is presented to us with a table surrounded by three chairs. A woman is preparing the table for dinner. A man insists he will also stay for dinner, in order to wait for his son who is coming from abroad. As he waits, he complains that his children do not respond to his texts.
The mother and father discuss between themselves - mostly blaming each other - their son who has a “problem.” After they are done with blaming each other, they try to come up with a solution to cure the 'sickness' of the fact their son has "a close intimate roommate”.
They find a solution in the book of Richard Cohen a 'former homosexual,' who got married and had three children and now writes about this, but you might rightly wonder if you are a 'former' something, do you still preserve the skill of being capable of that thing, or it is only when you excel at it? Cohen's book is called: “Coming Out Straight: Understanding and Healing Homosexuality” as if homosexuality is an injury you get while cooking…
The play 'Our Son' is written and directed by Patrik Lazić, and stars Dragana Varagić, Aleksander Dindić and Amar Ćorović. The whole thing takes place in the living room that is an open space together with the kitchen on the side. You could smell the chicken soup and lasagna, the meal they were having for dinner. The performance of all three actors is truly memorable, and in the moments when the son throws the bowl of salad to the floor or when he has to leave the room to come back calmer, you wonder how they could ever better this. Some moments felt way too real, like the moment when the radio played and they were obliged not to make any noise on the Saturday afternoon because the father was asleep, the mother almost breaking into tears while she relives her past through the voice of her son; this game of looking always for the guilty is a game that we practice every day in our life; it is scary isn’t it?
A performer should believe in the play they are acting in order to convince the spectator, and I was fooled by this performance, not to say taken in. The son leaves in the end, but why does he come back to eat dessert? For the tiramisu?
The mother and father still haven’t dealt with the fact that their son is gay. They come up with a plan to “cure” this “illness”, the key is the father, he is the one who has to do all the effort in this part, a plan that fails, because from a distant relationship you cannot build a close relationship overnight like the father tried.
It failed even because with the aid of Cohen's book because the son has read it and because he has tried to solve “the fact of being who he was.”
'Our Son' truly heartfelt piece, filled with humorous and melodramatic notes. Sarcasm, irony and jokes based on stereotypes and clichés about homosexuality are present throughout the play. The son has brought with him his roommate Nikola. Does Nikola make an appearance in the play? Does Nikola become a son in law? Do the parents meet him or accept to meet him?
Lazić, who is both the author and director, uses the techniques of retrospective and flashbacks almost in all the play showing parts of the past that have influenced the present to tackle some really deep problems who might change the course of a family - or a person. There is an exchange of characters where the son becomes the father showing how he was in the past.
The whole performance was captivating, a great emotional rollercoaster that goes from laughing to accusing, from accusing to screaming, from screaming again to joking, and from joking to true drama, from true drama to real tears, and from real tears to reflections.
The play tackles the topics of sexuality, of acceptance, of bringing down taboos, of dealing with unhealed wounds, of facing real issues, of making peace with the past in order to live in the present.
I wonder if you can find happiness, or be happy without dealing and facing the past, find validation, make peace and find acceptance. Can you be happy? Truly, can you? Who do you hold on to? Whose hand do you seek not to let you go, whose hand makes you powerful?
Written and directed by: Patrik Lazić // With: Dragana Varagić, Aleksandar Đinđić, Amar Ćorović
Reviewer: Fatlinda Daku
Darkness and river noise. A river continues to flow; we do not see it, but we know it is there. We can hear the sound.
The actors walk around the stage, mostly dressed in black and white; they walk with different movements, as if shocked, as if they do not know where they are. The river now seems to have been transformed into fog and the actors are walk across it.
The song "N'drrasë të vekut" is sung by actress Zana Berisha with music modified by Donika Rudi. She is grieving the loss of her lover.
The actors' faces are full of pain, each one of them has a story of loss and grief that they still cannot process. They are dealing with the first phase of life after loss: Denial.
A couple played by Ermal Sadiku and Qëndresa Jashari is dealing with another phase of grief: anger and bargaining. They are grieving the death of their daughter. They are angry and in pain, powerless and helpless. Her name was Drita (it means light in Albanian) They feel like they have lost their light of life and are wandering in the darkness with their pain. They blame themselves for the loss of their daughter. They play scenarios in their head about what could go differently. Trying to find answers to their rhetorical questions with a lot of “what if” and “if only’’.
The pain is still there. No answers. The people they lost are not coming back. Wherever they are. Another phase has taken place: Depression, the hardest stage to leave. The fog is slowly disappearing, but the river stands still.
"Try to move your finger" - the others are encouraging Redon Kika, who is playing another person grieving a lost one. But he doesn’t want to move. The unwillingness to move his body, not even his finger metaphorically tells a lot about this stage of pain. When you feel like it's better to hold on to the pain or else you will not feel the presence of the person you lost. If you ‘move’ you will accept that they are not here anymore, and in this stage that is the last thing you want to do. But that’s exactly what you should do. You should set yourself free and leave space for the other phase: Acceptance
Hope also returns for the couple who have lost their daughter, as they are given the news; they are about to have another daughter. This time they want to name her Diella (it mean sun in Albanian) as sunlight that restores their lost hope and above all brings them back to life…
A personal touch
There wasn’t a lot of dialogue in this performance, but still, it was enough to understand and feel the pain they had. It felt to me that the audience was also in that river, with them on a journey of healing from the pain that is hidden inside us for different reasons. The mastery of the director Florent Mehmeti, combing the play of words, the play of music, and the body language of actors, made us, the audience, feel pain for their pain - and then feel pain for our pain.
One of the most significant moments was when, at the end of the show, Labinot Raci wore a black vest with small mirrors on it. The mirrors reflected the light in them and in the audience. He asked all of us to say the name of our lost ones, to follow the hand gestures the actors did, reminding us that people exist because we make them exist, they are with us, in our memory, even if they left. The feelings that they gave us are with us and we should cherish that.
The performance gives the message that in life we must accept the river we are in, feel it, have patience, and above all understand that the river is not us, the river will change direction and we will come out of the river. It is a very well-thought out representation of the circle of life.
The show ended with the voice of birds singing and the sounds of a calm river, and I, like many others in the audience, left the room thinking about my lost ones and appreciating them even more for all the feelings they gave me.
Author and director: Florent Mehmeti
Co-authors of the text: Lirak Çelaj & Matt Opatrny
Assistant director: Daniela Markaj
Visual concept and lighting design: Yann Perregaux-Dielf
Music: Donika Rudi
Singing: Kaltrina Miftari, Qëndresa Jashari, Zana Berisha
Costumes: Martina Shtufi
A.Y.L.A.N, Gjilan City Theatre
Review by Flamur Dardeshi
As the lights dim, the four actors start moving through the theatre, as if they are swimming in the sea. The audience are sitting on the stage, looking out at the seats. The lights from the arena's far end fall on these seats, creating the illusion of waves.
The actors appear as if they have emerged from the sea. Director Blerta Neziraj's idea to seat the audience on stage is a brilliant one; Yann Perregaux's lighting design is also inspired.
The actors are dressed alike (the costume design is by Mentor Berisa) to maintain their neutrality; they are citizens without names or surnames.
We are in Roccalumera, a small town in the south of Italy, where no refugees have ever arrived. This has caused widespread depression in the city. Dreams of boats being emptied in the city's harbour sweeten citizens' sleep, but they are only dreams. All the money from the European Union is going to Lampedusa and other Italian cities where there are refugees, “the bloody bastards” says one of the characters. Even the cat, Sonno, the only cat in town, decides to leave forever because of this.
That's how small fishing towns are, living with what the sea brings to shore.
Then someone appears in the ‘sea-seats’ and slowly, his body passing from seat to seat, he comes to our feet and flows to the shore. The person is both dead and not a refugee - it’s the body of an Italian. But the people of Roccalumera are good capitalists, if life gives them lemons, they make lemonade and sell it, so they decide to cut off the body’s penis and put him in a niqab, turning him into Roccalumera's first refugee. "Wherever there is one refugee there are many." Scene follows scene as there are press conferences and the much-anticipated funding arrives from the EU.
Everything is getting better in the town now, even the cat Sonno returns.
Jeton Neziraj’s writing is both genuine and artistically appealing. He creates a small fishing city between the theater seats and is able to depict the passage of time, piecing together brief scenes where little happens, like the fall of a handkerchief from a balcony, or even sometimes, nothing at all. Sitting on stage in front of the ‘sea’ you cannot deny the fact that nothing happens; we all have days like that, even in Roccalumera.
Despite the fact that the movement between the theater seats does not appear comfortable, the actors do an impressive job. Gani Rahmani is able to quickly and convincingly convert himself into several roles (including Sonno the cat), and Tringa Hasani fits into her roles well and appears to be experiencing them.
But happiness does not last long; since the dead body was an Italian, someone comes from the Italian mafia. And so he begins to murder the citizens while seeking among them the killer of his brother Giuseppe (the dead body, brought from the sea). Later, he discovers that Giuseppe is still alive and that everything was a misunderstanding, so he returns to his hometown leaving behind, as a way to apologize, his torture tools. “Make a museum,” he advises. As if saying: “do not forget.”
The Roccalumera cat returns again. And this cat reminded me of all the Albanians I know, always trying to escape to the fabled West, but always returning back, if not physically, in some other way.
A ship carrying real refugees approaches the shores of Roccalumera, but after everything the citizens lock the port and turn off the lights. Silence now. They remain silent so as not to be heard by the refugees. We on stage are also silent.
This is when Jeton Neziraj decides to strike. He places one of the actors in the role of the god, speaking to us. Asking us what would we do if a van with an African family of 15 members standing in front of the theater now, which of us would go and pick them up and shelter them in our house? Thus the sea disappears and from Roccalumera we return to Gjilan, and from Gjilan, we go deep inside ourselves.
In the last scene an actor dressed as Superman enters the stage holding a large frame covered in black fabric. He tells the story of a little boy, Aylan, who with his father had taken the sea route to Europe, to escape the war in Syria. Superman was Aylan's favorite toy, so he was not afraid, because his hero could save everyone.
The fabric is removed to reveal the real photo of little Aylan, that the waves had washed ashore. Apparently, the sea required a sacrifice. The revelation of the photo in this way stunned the audience; some burst into tears.
Superman, who saves everyone, could not save Aylan who never arrived in the promised land, in the free Europe where life would resume.
Pablo Picasso says that the purpose of art is to clean the dust of everyday life from our souls. This play shook the dust from our shoulders. The dust that makes us forget the human inside us. It was like a strike for the audience: remember, it said, remember…
Superman didn’t save Aylan, but can art do something? Can art save us all?
By: Jeton Neziraj // Directed by: Blerta Neziraj // Ass. Director: Avni Shkodra // Cast: Aurita Agushi, Ernest Zymberi, Kushtrim Qerimi, Tringa Hasani, Gani Rrahmani dhe Alban Shahiqi // Stage Design and Costumes: Mentor Berisha // Choreography: Gjergj Prevazi // Music: Tomor Kuci // Light Design: Yann Perregaux // Translated into English by: Alexandra
Produced by: the Gjilan City Theater, Gjilan In Roccalumera
Kosovo Theatre Reviews
Reviews and creative responses to theatre productions in Kosovo