KOSOVO THEATRE REVIEWS
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
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
Review by Borisav Matić
Photo by: Ferdi Limani
An Orgiastic Musical in the Aftermath of War
Imagine yourself at a hedonistic nightclub full of campy decorations, cheap furniture and guests that drown themselves in shots of rakia. Now imagine that bloodshed is happening everywhere around you, caused by unhealed traumas and unresolved conflicts of the just-finished war. Imagine that even in these morbid circumstances you'll be drawn by turbo-folk music to participate in orgiastic dances. Welcome to the world of Balkan Bordello.
This flamboyantly dark anti-war show isn't just rich in story and style, but also in the production's prehistory. Jeton Neziraj's play has been directed twice before: once by Stevan Bodroža at the National Theatre of Montenegro in 2015, and András Urbán at the National Theatre of Kosovo in 2017. Both are prominent regional directors, but Urbán's unapologetic and provocative way of making political theatre alongside Neziraj;s critique of a post-war society might be the reason why the second show was greeted with protests and violent threats from Kosovo war veterans.
However, this third directorial iteration by Blerta Neziraj takes place in a slightly different political environment. Albin Kurti, the Prime Minister of Kosovo who unlike his predecessors doesn't look back nostalgically at the war of the 1990s, attended the premiere. He did not appear provoked, rather relaxed enough to scroll on his cell phone during the performance, and not because he was composing an angry tweet because of the show.
This production can also be seen as a milestone in artistic collaboration with Serbia that still doesn't recognize Kosovo as an independent country since the show is a co-production of Qendra Multimedia with Atelje 212, an institutional theatre from Belgrade, and also with LaMama theatre and the My Balkans organization from New York.
Though the show feels very contemporary, the basis of its story is as classical as it can be – it's a rewriting of Aeschylus' Oresteia trilogy, and quite a faithful one. Jeton Neziraj has kept all the major plot points, focusing his adaptation on the contemporary world. The first big alteration is the setting, so the story takes place at a decadent but dismal and run-over-by-time Balkan Express Motel, and the second big change is the modernization of characters. Agamemnon is now a victorious military commander and war criminal with implicit but clear reference to the Kosovo war, while his wife Clytemnestra is the owner of the Motel who's ready to kill her husband in order to stop him from abusing her anymore. There's also a queer streak that runs through the production: Orestes and Pylades are now a queer couple.
Jeton Neziraj's plot is satirical and the irony is only intensified by Blerta Neziraj's directing, which ensures that all elements of the show work towards this goal. The production's musical elements, its energetic electro-oriental sounds composed by Gabriele Marangoni, form suitable background to the play's songs about the seduction and absurdity of war.
The satire is also mirrored in Gjergj Prevazi's choreography. On one hand, the characters meet the returning commander with almost ceremonial movements and the fighter, played by Ivan Mihajlović, performs an agile celebratory dance to his speech. On the other hand, there are often collective scenes of drunken dances with erotic elements, both homosexual and
heterosexual. There's also Pylades, played by John Gutierrez as a choreographer from Berlin, fascinated by the locals' 'barbarism'; he wants to humanize them through dance – a clear critique of the West's hypocritical and cosmetic altruism. Pylades also teaches other characters basic dance steps at the most awkward times, for example after the murders that happen at the Motel.
A thick layer of irony and campness might be the show's biggest protection from total nihilism. Even though the story is full of violent male characters, their traditional image of masculinity is subverted by their queerness. Not only is Orestes openly gay as an avenger of his father's honour, but so it seems is Agamemnon's fighter whose image of homophobia and aggressive masculinity cracks during a drunken interaction with Pylades.
Agamemnon's image of masculinity seems sincere until the end, but he's the first one who gets killed almost at the beginning of the performance. The show feels to a certain extent like a post-gender society in which the characters are judged on their deeds and not so much on sexual or gender identity. This would explain the lavish, glittery and colorful scenography (Marija Kalabić) and costumes (Gabriel Berry) that are assigned to almost all characters.
With actors coming from New York, Kosovo and Serbia, there was a risk of incoherence because of different acting styles, but it seems that's avoided. All actors adopted a grandiose, over-the-top approach that fitted very well into the concept of the show. George Drance as Agamemnon has a firm posture and elevated, formal manure of speech, only for this illusion of nobility to be scattered by his periodic outburst of anger and violence and Verona Koxha's frantic performance of Cassandra who's a traumatized victim of Agamemnon and the war. Svetozar Cvetković's exaggerated and loud gestures present him as a pretentious poet who deludedly believes that he and his fellow intellectuals are the founders of the new state and not the warlords. Cvetković's expressiveness only really comes into action in the second half of the performance, but this is an issue with the whole show. It feels like it's not polished enough and that everyone would benefit from a week or two of more rehearsals. There are issues with sound; it is sometimes a struggles to hear all the words, and some actors are heavily dependant on microphones while others are not.
But the life of Balkan Bordello has just begun. The New York premiere is scheduled for April next year and it's almost certain that the cast and the whole show will come to function much more efficiently in the weeks and months ahead.
A trans-Atlantic theatrical project of La MaMa's Great Jones Repertory Company, New York
Author: Jeton Neziraj // Directed by: Blerta Neziraj // With: Onni Johnson, Svetozar Cvetković, George Drance, Eugene the Poogene, Valois Mickens, John Maria Gutierrez, Mattie Barber-Bockelman, Ivan Mihailović, Matt Nasser, Verona Koxha // Composer: Gabriele Marangoni // Costumes: Gabriel Berry // Stage design: Marija Kalabić // Choreographer: Gjergj Prevazi // Visual and light concept: Nico de Rooij // Dramaturges: Dimitrije Kokanov, Zishan Ugurlu // Producer of the Balkan Bordello: Beka Vučo // Production coordinator: Maud Dinand Lighting: Yann Perregaux /
Review by Florida Kastrati
As people sit on the theatre seats, the stage is already set. An old woman, whose hair is in the curlers, is waiting for us. She has been waiting for people to come and go in the same, dark room, every single day; for a long while, this has been her life.
The set, designed by Theranda Sertolli, consists of a table with two chairs, closed curtains, a small kitchen with all the ingredients of a cake waiting to be made. Some balloons in the back frame the audience’s view. Although inanimate, these balloons bring some color to this dull place.
The play The Birthday, written by Ivor Martinić and directed by Iliriana Arifi, absorbs the spectators. From the very beginning, the actors and the staging catch your attention and hold it; you enter into the world of the play smoothly, almost without noticing it.
The room has been adorned in this way for Denis’ 25th birthday. Denis was fine when he was a child but soon he became ill, and he lost his ability to walk. At first, he used crutches, and lately, as his health got worse, his family bought a wheelchair for him. His health is in constant decay, just as is the main characters’ approach to life.
Denis chooses to be alone most of the time, using his wheelchair to go to the park, feed pigeons and sometimes even meet Sara. “I don’t love her, but she loves me and that’s just fine,” he says.
You expect Denis to talk more, but he doesn’t. He chooses quietness and less crowded places, probably because he has had enough of people. The ones who know Denis think of his wheelchair as clumsy, and strangers can’t stop staring because they think of him as “different”.
Mia, the housewife, Denis’ mom, the caretaker and much more, clearly doesn’t live life for herself. She is one of those women, of which there are many, who dedicate their entire being to their families, their husbands and children, and their husband’s family, their own family and even animals - cats and green canaries.
Both Rebeka Qena who played Mia and Labinot Raci as Denis, played straight to the heart, deeply touching the audience with their affecting performances. They could transmit to the audience the routine of these characters’ lives, the routine of one single day, a routine that for the people in the play is that of a lifetime. The society in which the characters live is fully judgmental, their lives are full of regrets: people they haven’t been with, places they haven’t travelled, ardent dreams that now merely tempt the characters as delusional. They are caught in a paralyzed way of life.
Mia can’t accept the fact that her 25-year-old paraplegic son can’t walk. She does the impossible for him to appear smiling and barely standing up in the yearly photos the family takes. And Mia loves her invalid son extremely. She loves him with that blind kind of love that deprives you of living. That kind of love that brings more darkness, despair and tears, for sickness is outside our control.
But Mia knows that “Some things need to be saved and used moderately. Nice dresses, love, tears and things like that.” Although she doesn’t quite practice it in her life. Mia knows that she is keeping too much of a heavy burden with her, but can’t let go easily. Again, she forgets to turn on the lights of the room.
One of the balloons pops by itself and the curtains drop down. The play ends. But the world, well, the world ends with a whimper right, rather than a bang?
By: Ivor Martinić // Directed by: Ilirjana Arifi // Cast: Rebeka Qena, Labinot Raci, Igballe Qena, Bislim Muçaj, Sheqerie Buçaj, Florenta Bajraktari, Alketa Sylaj // Stage and Costumes: Theranda Sertolli // Light Design: Skender Latifi // Stage Technicians: Albert Gashi, Bedri Maloku, Fadil Bekteshi
Review by Daniela Gjopalaj
Black Hole: The asshole of the universe
A black hole is where gravity pulls so much that even light cannot get out. I’ve heard that these holes exist on earth also, in the cities of Kosovo. There, holes are dug, and from them sprout tall buildings, the fruits of which are enjoyed by the "few". In a corrupt state it is well-known who "the few" are.
Better to fall in the asshole of the universe, than to live in a corrupt city like this. This seemed to me the message of the warm, humorous yet dramatic play, Madeleine’s Incident. In these days, when there are so many failed attempts at "alternative" plays, more "classical" plays like this are heart- warming for theater lovers.
The play is written by Kosovar playwright, Jeton Neziraj and produced by Pocket Theater from Cyprus. The director is Marios Theocharous.
Citizens are often left behind and communities like the Roma are even more left behind. Madeleine, the title character of the play, is Roma. The staging was filled with vivid colors that are characteristic of the Roma. Madeleine's mother, performed by Miranda Nychidou, is dressed in red and speaks the Greek language with a Roma accent. We see her also performing the role of the cleaner, of the nurse, of the official from a Kosovar institution, and the official from the German embassy. The father, performed by Andreas Nicolaides, wears a gold thread vest. He is a dreamer with a large heart, much of which is occupied by Madeleine. Nicolaides also plays the energetic showman, and the worker who digs the hole.
Madeleine is represented by a puppet in a pink dress, performed by the actress Athena Savva dressed in black, a good choice to maintain neutrality. We see her also performing the role of the male doctor smoking cigarettes in the hospital room, another official from a Kosovar institution, and the official from the German embassy, the businessmen and the municipality representative.
One of the most impressive characteristics of the Pocket Theater production was the performers' ability to play a variety of roles, even contradicting ones, while being completely transformed and conveying the nuances of each character to the audience. This kind of elasticity, along with a quickness in changing costumes, made a play with 13 characters, but just three actors, come from her family home to ours.
Little Madeleine had a cheerful, lively voice, like children who see everything as a game. She burst like a popcorn kernel as she happily walked the streets of this post-war city, where it seems the enemy is now internal.
Madeleine was born in Germany, where her family emigrated due to war in Kosovo, but after the war they were forced to come back. The only contact Madeleine has with Germany is a friend of hers, Katja, who has not heard from Madeleine for a long time, because she fell into a hole that was dug to create a new building, and she now is standing right in the middle of the black hole.
While Madeleine is in a coma in the hospital, on stage we see corrupt doctors, corrupt businessmen, the media that tries to reflect the reality in their own way. The case of Madeleine went to the bureaucratic offices of Kosovo, with officials who aggressively ignored Madeleine's parents’ request for help. The roles of the officials are performed by Athena Savva and Miranda Nychidou. In the next scene, the same actresses are transformed into German embassy officials.
They refuse Madeleine's parents' requests for assistance in obtaining a German visa so that she might be treated in Germany, but this time they respond nicely, in a European manner, where even the worst news is delivered with a smile.
And while these are happening, in a world where not only humans but all of humanity has taken a back seat, it seems Madeleine made her decision.
In her dream, Madeleine asks her father for a fast train, so fast that it would seem that it is flying. This is the most beautiful scene of the play.
As in a dream, a scenario of magical realism is created between the real and the fantastic. Madeleine eventually spots the train in the horizon and joyfully embarks on her journey to another world. Somewhere beyond black holes and assholes. Where politics, money and corruption do not have the power to turn man into a beast digging graves in the middle of the city. In that world, little Madeleine can find happiness, love, and big hearts, like that of her father.
In the end, Madeleine’s parents leave the city. Because the Roma are Roma only when they travel.
Produced by Pocket Theater from Limassol, Cyprus
Author: Jeton Neziraj // Directed by: Marios Theocharous // Cast: Andreas Nicolaides, Miranda Nychidou, Athena Savva // Sets and Costumes: Thelma Cassoulidou // Choreography: Marina Poyiadji // Music: Demetris Spyrou International Outreach: Marios Theocharous // Translation into Greek: Marios Theocharous// Lights: Vasilis Petinaris // Translated into English by: Alexandra Channer
Review by Fatlinda Daku
A wake-up call from the dead
There is something special about theatre scenes that take place in the audience's space. They make you feel like you are part of the show too. Technically and spiritually. They break the routine of normality and prepares you for a journey that will not be ‘normal’. And yes, normality it’s a subjective experience that everyone understands differently. But Erson Zymberi's production of the work of Beqir Musliu takes our history, our myths, our traditions, our political situation - which is accepted as it is (as 'normal' in this case) - and left us, the audience, with many "What if’s?"
The setting is that of a theatre named “Liria ", which means freedom in Albanian. Seven actors play nine mystical creatures. Their costume designs are a mix of traditional and modern elements. The actors don’t only speak to us through their actions on stage, they speak to us through the strange and unique mix of music, songs, and dance that characterized this show. The songs had very powerful lyrics that together with the narrator, played mostly by Arta Selimi, played a crucial role in this performance.
What made this play even more special for me is the fascinating interpretation of Shengyl Ismaili in the role of mother in all dramas. I get goosebumps when I think about it. During the show, there were sometimes some pauses when the mother looked at the audience and we got lost in her eyes full of pain for Halil, Fatima, and Rexha. Those two or three-second pauses were so strong that they will stay in the memory of many of us in the audience for a long time. It also proved that sometimes the most powerful communication is through facial expression, something the actors in this performance did amazingly well.
Zymberi's direction made us travel through the four dramas of Musliu that I believe everyone who loves Albanian literature knows. The one about "Who brought Doruntina?" but this time it was about Fatime, the one with Halil Garria, the one about Rexha with his tragic death by his horse and about "Shtriganin e Gjel-Hanit".
The show takes us back and forth from their reality to our reality and mixed it with feelings of nostalgia for a time that we, the audience, did not experience, but only read or heard about it. It felt like they were giving us glimpses of what ‘we’ used to be, and of what we should be. Throughout the show, the author was playing with our realities and how we see things. At moments we were deep in the past reality,’ then the narrator took us back to our reality. Many sequences were repeated, but always with a different element letting us understand what it would be like if the myths were different. It felt like the dead people in these myths were the whistleblowers of our modern society. This made the whole show very intriguing and I could hardly wait to see what would happen next, what would change in this myth, and how the actors will play with it.
A connecting point of these dramas would be that all the events in this performance openly display the complexity of being held hostage to the given word and our traumas as a people during this history of constant struggle for the homeland and undoubtedly the suffering of the mother. It all starts with the myth of Halil Garria who wakes up from the grave and goes with his wooden horse, to meet Fatime, his only sister to whom he has promised that alive or dead he will go to take her home to her mother and then continue with Rexha who finds death from his horse, and the mourning of her mother asking him to wake up because, with his death, he metaphorically closed the door of the house.
Zymberi's production allowed us to journey to the past through Albanian historical myths. It is a call for awakening, for change, and for a confrontation with the brutal reality that we are living through so calmly and which we accept as something normal. Even the song with which the whole show ends lets us know that all of us in one way or another have failed to make this place as we promised those who died for freedom.
If Halil Garria kept his word and got up to pick up his sister and send her to his mother, maybe we too could wake up, keep our word and make this place better for us first and for future generations. So, yes, the dead people in this performance were the whistleblowers of our society this time, but what if next time they forget about us, as we did about them?
Author: Beqir Musliu /directed by: Erson Zymberi
Review by Fatlinda Daku
In search of a better life.
Going in to the theatre, all I knew about Jeton Neziraj's Kosovo for Dummies was that it was about a young girl who goes to Switzerland. So what? I thought, I have cousins and friends who went there. It's nothing new. But Neziraj's play, ably directed by Blera Neziraj, turned out to be one of the most interesting and relevant performances I have ever seen. The kind of performance that you want to call your friends and tell them about after you leave.
Over an hour and a half, it explores the current situation in Kosovo, the past two decades and more in a very clear way. The text may not be new but it remains necessary. If it were played 15 years ago, the same would still be true.
Why is this?
Every year many young people leave Kosovo to go to countries that offer them what our country cannot. We all see this, we all feel bad, we all call on those in power not to go on repeating the famous saying: "Youth is the future of Kosovo." And this is the end of the discussion usually. Nothing more is said about it. Who is to blame? Politicians? Universities? Those who leave? All of us? We have discussed and debated these questions many times and all those who are reading this will most likely have an answer to this question. But we often forget to ask what happens to the young people of our country who go to another country, what happens to them there? Are they really finding a better life?
Neziraj's text deals with this directly. Blerta Neziraj's production makes us, the spectators, travel without visas to closely follow the life of Antigona, a young girl, who like many others has migrated to Switzerland. She finds a job in a Turkish kebab shop which many people in Switzerland frequent for the famed donners they make. But, apparently, even there they don't let you enjoy your life. Antigona must appeal to an institution to retain her residence permit and acquire certificates to prove that she is a 'normal' person. In addition to the suitcase full of certificates that are usually required of migrants, she must prove that she is not a rhinoceros.
Only Mr.Hartman, a 100% Swiss guy who works in this institution knows what 'normal' means. He gives her a deadline of a few days to find that certificate. Antigona desperately returns to the kebab shop where she works to tell them the sad news and ask for help. A regular client who loves Albanians very much promises Antigona that he will go to Kosovo and will find the certificate that proves she is not a rhinoceros.
When he arrives in Kosovo, the scene becomes hazy and messy as if this explains the aggravated mental state of the young people there. Her customer looks everywhere for this certificate and constantly tells the people of Kosovo how much he loves them and how much he wanted to come to this country. After a while, he finds this certificate and with this, Jeton Neziraj seems to ironically imply that in this country you can always find a solution and what you are looking for, if what you want is to leave this place, but there is no help for you if you continue to live there.
The play contains two other key characters. The owner of the kebab shop and a lady with a dog. They symbolize the two other types of people you meet when you live abroad. The lady with the dog is completely indifferent to your existence and does not care whether or not you are a migrant. But you can also meet strangers like you who understands your situation and give you a job and maybe even a place to stay because they feel your pain.. You can also meet people who go to Kosovo for you to prove that you are a 'normal' person as well as those who force you to show that you are not a rhino.
The History of the Rhinoceros
What is a rhinoceros? They are animals with two horns on their faces, directed at you, getting ready to charge - and, most importantly, giving you the chance to act. They are animals so unknown to us they are almost mystical, and Neziraj tells us that they are sometimes found inside us too, whether you are a migrant or not.
Towards the end of the play, a rhino enters the stage, removes their mask, and looks at us, at the public, telling us a story about Syrian migrants in Kosovo. The Rhinoceros says that one day she got the courage to talk to one of them and hear the story of their lives. The migrant felt so good following this conversation that he had thanked her endlessly for listening to him. The rhinoceros was reminded of the past and the years of war when they themselves were in a similar position. The rhinoceros tells us that we should listen more and be more empathetic.
The moral of the story
The play deals with three things at once. A young woman fleeing from Kosovo to Switzerland for a better life. Another one coming to Kosovo for a better life and another who has emigrated and returned to Kosovo again. The play clearly shows the social inequality that all of them experience regardless of where they come from and the double standards along with the hidden racism that some have inside them. As with his other plays, Jeton Neziraj's satire makes us think twice about our behavior and makes us reflect on the social problems we have in our country. Because if we do not reflect, the rhino will stay with us for a long time.
The Return of Karl May, National Theatre of Kosovo - an academic analysis
Towards a minor theatre
Jeton Neziraj’s controversial and avant-garde text, The Return of Karl May sparked the notion of “the minor” in my mind. “The minor” is a concept coined by Gillez Deleuze, the French philosopher and thinker, and his friend and colleague Felix Guattari. It concerns social subjects who have been marginalized from the “major thinking and discourse”, and form a “Machine of Desires and Powers” so that they can make changes to the society in which they reside.
Director Blerta Neziraj has the capacity to charge every visual element, movement, and character in the play into a performance in which the spectators can feel the text, not only by listening to the dialogue, but also by seeing, smelling, touching and conceptually tasting the concepts which run through the play.
This text is an attempt to examine the correlation of some concepts in Deleuze’s thinking with the form, content, and structure of Jeton Neziraj’s work.
The Return of Karl May concerns the bigotry created in the West against the people, culture, and traditions in the East. This ever-present hostility comes from a framework within which western people have always considered themselves as being superior to others. The dichotomy is such that even many people from the East have imagined the West as their “land of dreams”. The sense of superiority results from a discourse that tries to convince the world that the superpowers of in the West can play the role of Messiah for the rest of the world whom they regard as being uncivilized and savage. This undoubtedly has roots in colonialism, bigotry, hegemony and racism.
The play portrays Kara Ben Nemsi, the protagonist of the works of German author Karl May. Along with a group of actors from Kosovo, he escapes from the east to the west on a journey to Germany. On his way, he runs into a number of figures - Slavoj Zizek, Peter Handke, a member of Nationalsozialistischer Untergrund - who have not only been satirized by Jeton Neziraj, but also deformed so that the reader, or spectator, is presented with new challenges related to their historic, philosophical and literary characters.
Karl May’s works are typical of those writers who, on one hand, paint the West as being intellectual, wise, and civilized and, on the other hand, describe the East as being ignorant, despotic, full of illegality and savageness. A simple search on Google confirms this. Racism, fascism, Hitler and so on. An article in the New Yorker magazine: “How American Racism Influenced Hitler” contains the eye-catching sentence: “From boyhood on, Hitler devoured the Westerns of the popular German novelist, Karl May.”
The satiric and critical language of Jeton Neziraj demonstrates that little has changed. There are still European intellectuals who a draw the line between the civilized and developed West and the poor East. According to Michel Foucault, the French 20th century post-structuralist philosopher, power throughout the past has changed its shape so that it can be revealed in much more civilized way. What these days is seen as the modern, developed Western culture and civilization propagates the idea that what emerges in the East needs to be eliminated in order for democracy, as defined by the West, to be exported. The West is still a role model for the rest of the world. A new racism is appearing. Umberto Eco was correct when stating that “Eternal Fascism” is still accompanying us, waiting for an opportunity to get back on track.
A performance of “the minor”: deterritorialization
The Return of Karl May exemplifies the concept of “deterritorialization” of the stage, a controversial and significant concept coined by Deleuze and Guattari. According to one of their most notable works, “Anti-Oedipus”, in the dominant regime, we face a fixed “Territory”. This territory represents the position which is allocated to each person in the machine of society. The regime assigns positions to social subjects from which they cannot deviate. Deleuze and Guattari believe that the social subjects need to deny this territory which has been imposed on them. In other words, they need to “DE- Territorialize” the position they have in this machine of society so that they can remake (reterritorialize) the position for which they have desire.
In the theatre, we can consider the traditional stage as being the “territory”, which has been defined by the dominant discourse to be the only place where performance can take place. In the new theories of performance, this idea has fallen away. According to Richard Schechner, performance can happen everywhere. That is to say, the people involved in the production of a performance must deterritorialize the stage as the fixed place where performance can happen. And then, they can use other places as being the stage such as on the street, among the spectators and also anywhere added to the stage. An example of this is seen in Blerta Neziraj’s performance, when we see one of the actors entering the performance from among the audience. This could be considered an example of “deterritorialization”. In this way, both Jeton Neziraj’s text, whose form has been emptied of the dominant structures of the signifying regimes (due to the manipulation of word-order in the dominant language), and also the performance have “political effectivity” as far as the “mis en scene” is concerned. Once all elements – set, props - were considered as being inferior to the text, while on the stage, these are different points in the “rhizomatic network” (another term of Deleuze and Guattari) of the performance. Here, according to Deleuze, the concrete concept of the collective creation takes place. What is seen on the stage is not a “text” to which all the agents of the performance (director, actors, stage designer) are committed, but a complete collective creation.
What is fascinating is that Jeton Neziraj has designed the deconstructed the structure of the play in a form which could be assimilated by any kind of society. This means that having a collective creation of the play, The Return of Karl May, is totally possible in any society. The Return of Karl May could be transformed into “the return of anybody else”. This is mainly because this play is moving, according to Deleuze and Guattari’s unorthodox reading of Kafka, towards “a theatre of the minor”. Deleuze insists that the concept of ‘the minor’ is not quantitative as the minor could be bigger than the major. ‘The minor’ could exist in any kind of ‘Machinic Society’ (a concept coined by Deleuze and Guattari in Anti-Oedipus).
What defines the society is the abstract machines of desire and power as it can clearly be seen in Blerta Neziraj’s performance. We see on stage a number of “nomads” whose aims are totally absurdist in a positive manner. All the actors employ abstract movements to form an image of thought before, behind and around the eyes of the spectators. They even neutralize the “dominating regime of signs existent in the dominating language”. This occurs when, for instance, one actor starts using some meaningless words (I call these words “neutralized and deterritorilised language”.) in Hungarian to satirize the ridiculous convention of “the angry police officer” and then, the second actor is persuaded to speak a language which nobody understands but sounds like Slovak. This is a characteristic of “the literature of the minor” conceptualized by Deleuze and Guattari in their reading on Kafka. According to this work, one of the most important features of “the minor literature” is that “that a minor literature should deterritorialize the major Language”
What they mean by deterritorialization is the neutralization of the sense, or the signifying aspects of language, and a foregrounding of the latter’s asignifying , intensive aspects. This involves a kind of stammering and stuttering or ‘becoming a stranger’ in one’s own tongue.
This neutralization is evident in some lines uttered by the actors. It can also be claimed that the satiric role of Rihi the frog is foregrounding the meaninglessness of the semantic which has dominated every context in which the language starts to perform. This notion of stuttering and stammering exists in the history of theatre, especially in the works of Carmelo Bene, the Italian actor, director, playwright and filmmaker. He, in particular, imposes this neutralization of the sense on the performance of Shakespeare’s Richard III by William Shakespeare (as described by Laura Cull in Deleuze and Performance).
In addition to the first approach, deterritorialization can happen beyond the linguistic and semantic level. The lack of coherence, pragmatically speaking, is more or less destroying the sense of being straightforward over the course of the text so that it is impossible for the viewers to follow a logical sequence throughout the play and the performance. In this way a force starts growing out of the events generated by the presence of the collective subject (the actors) whose leading role has disappeared due to the lack of the auteur’s commands. The actors seem to be disobeying the commands given by the director (that is the character of the director) and this way the traditional role of the director, is deterritorialized so that it can be reterritorialized into a new form.
The director “becomes” a part of the performance machine on a horizontal basis without enjoying any superiority over the other actors on the stage. He, the director, is trying to put the structure back into the text. However, he fails to monitor the process of “becoming.” In the case of this play, it “becoming” Slavoj Zizek, becoming Peter Handke, becoming Kara Ben Nemsi. In spite of the dialogue, thesy are not representing any particular sense that can exist in reality. This means that there is no typical signifier and signified relationship between the linguistic codes in the text and their reference in reality. The opposition of virtual (becoming animal, Rihi the Frog) and actual (the actors trying to put process into practice) creates multiplicities.
I believe that neither the text nor the performance is metaphoric. Metaphors are organized and coherent. They can be decoded. So I would like to call both the text and the performance “conceptual.” The difference between the concept and metaphor lies in the fact that metaphors exist “out there.” When something preexists in the world outside, what the author does is to bring about a representation of them on the stage or in the text. Nevertheless, the concept is invented, shaped and created. “Rihi the frog” is not symbolizing anything special. Why, the viewer and the reader might ask? Rihi the frog is a frog. There is no magic. In “Metamorphosis” by Kafka the beetle talks to the spectators while it is not comprehensible to the characters. Here, we encounter a new concept, which is “becoming animal”. Rihi is neither frog nor a human. It is the process of “becoming animal”. Rihi, ribbits while it speaking human language as well. Is this a metaphor? Of course not. 'Becoming' animal is not a representation. It is created on the stage. There is no messianic power inside Rihi. What we have on and off the stage is “the presence of some concepts” trying to cause multiplicities. All in all, what I have been trying to locate in this review is a new reading which could go beyond seeing the play which is performed as a text only. The ideas of Deleuze and Guattari provide the possibilities of coming up with new ideas which can trigger “thinking”. What I have thought up is the possibility of encounters and events. This way we can create forces through which the spectators encounter the new concepts. This requires going beyond the representation and looking at the performance in a totally novel approach. This way, any type of difference and hierarchical structure is eradicated so that a complete “Collective Creation” could emerge. Even the stage has been deterritorilaized. The eyes of the spectators are not fixed at a stage which is traditionally separated from the viewers. One actor crosses the spectators to join the other actors on stage. The nomadic actor (I would like to call it the “collective subject”) joins the collective subjectivity. There is a director, yet no hierarchical relationship has been represented on the stage. This is what Laura Cull calls the “theatre of immanence”, using Deleuze’s idea of “the plane of immanence: a life”.
The idea for “the theatre of immanence” insists on the “eradication of hierarchical system” from the theatre. Laura Cull is looking for a kind of theatre which is no longer representing reality. As with Deleuze, she tries to conceptualize a type of performance in which the immanence emerges so that the representation has to leave the performance and instead we have the presence, the presence of collective subjectivity”. This collective subjectivity owns “nomadic thought”. Nomads do not stay in one place. They enter a territory, and deterritorialize it so as to reside there. The actors (subjects) are nomads forming their territory while they have deterritorialized the streets and the viewers’ eyes. Here, there is no distinction between “on” and “off” the stage. So, according to Richard Schechner, the performance and life become one thing, and they fail to be distinguished in the eyes of the viewers. This is the realm of a new ontology which tries to create a “difference” in itself. There are many others. No superiority is witnessed on the stage because first of all there is no stage, where people can feel that they are different. No unique individual identity. What is performed is the collective creation of a performance to which even the spectators belong
Photo credit: Atdhe Mulla
Audience by Vaclav Havel, Theater Oda - another view
What would an Investigator want at the theatre?
You can find them everywhere. Especially in important positions. As administrative employees in the municipality, tired of looking at the clock to see when the working hours are ending. As principals of schools, gymnasiums and universities watching videos on Facebook inside those old brutalist-style brown offices that smell like cigarettes. As government employees who return emails 100 times with numerous miniscule requests for improvements to the documents that you send to them because they have nothing else to report to their superiors. (Ironically, of course, these emails contain a lot of spelling mistakes). They usually belong to a political party. They are 40-50 years old, in some cases even older. They're married. Some of them dream of cheating on their partners. Some of them even do. You usually have to go to them for a document. But it does not happen often that they come to you. Especially in the theatre.
In Audience by Vaclav Havel, the investigator in question has ben sent by his superiors at the police station to investigate a complaint by the director of a theatre.
The events of the play take place in the actors' dressing room, an old room with minimal facilities. The director of the theatre tells the investigator that they have called for funds many times to renovate the theatre, but no one cares because, according to them "up there", they have more important things to deal with than that.
An awkward conversation takes place where the inferiority and superiority of the two characters dance over the sounds of their words in a way that is clearly noticed by the audience. The inferiority of the theatre director and his fear reminds me of the main character in Franz Kafka's The Process since he does not know what they have accused him of and what will happen to his fate.
The investigator feels superior to the director in this because he knows that he has him in his hands, what with all these new laws and amendments and regulations, which if the investigator wanted (with his interpretation) he could use to send the director to prison immediately. The investigator also feels inferiority to the director's intellect and the work he does. The investigator understands deep down that he knows nothing. But knowing it and saying it out loud are two different things. Therefore, to fill this gap, he begins to show the director how he knows everything about the theatre. How he read Stanislavski's system, which according to him is the Qur'an or the Bible of the theatre. How he is not like other investigators, because he studies, analyzes and does in-depth research before taking a case and how he does not type with two fingers like his colleagues. On the other hand, the Theatre Director knows he has done nothing wrong. But he also grasps that this is not enough in this country and continues to be scared. He asks the investigator if he came because of the new ballet competition. The Inspector does not tell him and continues to hold him as a ‘hostage’ in this nerve-racking conversation.
Who is Rozi?
There is a third character, the actress Rozi, but the audience does not see her. We just hear her voice, often crying, laughing, singing and reciting. "She is an unpredictable actress," says the theatre director, which is why everyone loves her. Apparently, the investigator is obsessed with her. He gets excited when he finds out she is there, in the theatre. He exaggerates her appearance in front of the Theatre Director, considering her as an almost mythical creature. He knows some of the roles that she played. He praises her, but also objectifies her in the most vulgar form. Then he asks the director how he can meet her. What role will she play? What is she doing now? And many-many other questions. The Investigator also finds drugs in Rozi's cosmetics in the dressing room, but when he found out that they were hers, he doesn't take the issue further. He even seems to soften with the Theatre Director when she is mentioned. Rozi serves as a distraction. As a distraction from the conversation for the Director. And as a distraction from the boring nonsense of his life for the Investigator.
This dialogue must come to an end. The Director is in a hurry and can’t wait for it to be over. The Investigator goes to the bathroom to see Rozi on stage and tells the Director to write his own statement and then, only after that, he will tell him why he came here. The Director is confused. He starts to write, deletes, writes, deletes and repeats the same things again. He fears that his words will be misinterpreted and will be used as evidence that he is guilty. The investigator returns and tells him that Niku, an actor, has complained that the Director has violated the regulations and has discriminated against him because he is not giving him roles in the theatre. The Director explains that no director will work with him because he is incompetent and does not know how to act. Discussions continue. The investigator listens, closes the file. Now, they are talking about the Ballet competition. The investigator has a daughter and her dream was to always be part of the ballet. And he wants her to be accepted in this competition that was opened by the Director.
An a-ha moment!
The conclusion of the play is clear demonstration of how forced nepotism works, the hypocrisy it creates and how much pressure is put on the people who are trying to do something good for their country by forcing them to compromise their values. The way in which the actors Shpetim Selmani, who plays the arrogant, but inferior Investigator and Dukagjin Podrimaj, who plays the ‘good guy’ Director who is only trying to do his job, conveys their feelings, to us, the audience, is fascinating.
It was like the ugliest parts of realism were meeting the innocent parts of idealism. It felt like we were there, with them, in the dressing room, in complete silence, listening and waiting to see what will happen next, impatiently...
In this way I found Agon Myftari's performance of Jeton Neziraj's play to be truly provocative, intense and relatable. In one form or another it makes us reflect on the compromises we may have made, with or without our knowledge. You may ask, how do we get out of this situation? I think we all know the answer to that. This performance was just a reminder of ‘’how’'.
Author: Jeton Neziraj//Director: Agon Myftari//Cast: Dukagjin Podrimaj, Shpëtim Selmani
Photo credit: Atdhe Mulla
Audience by Vaclav Havel, Theater Oda
To think that time passes but so much remains the same is mind-blowing, right? The fact that a work of art, no matter how old, can be revived and put on stage and still make you feel the same as the first audience that witnessed it, is just… wow!
I mean, Vaclav Havel wrote his play Audience in 1975, written to serve as a mirror of, or even a backlash against, the communist regime that existed in his country at the time. And to think, today, 45 years later, we still feel the need to put on such a play within the theatre scene of my own “democratic” country is just sad.
Havel's play depicts a suffocating bureaucratic system that not only doesn’t contribute to the artistic wellbeing of its own country but is destined to prevent its progress, unless it under agreed conditions of course.
This adaptation by Jeton Neziraj shows two men on opposite poles; a theatre director, trying to prepare a show for the premiere that’s supposed to be held in a couple of days and a man working for the system who has come to investigate seemingly baseless charges that turn out to be legitimate albeit absurd. The plot unravels itself in meaningless dialogues (that serve to make us bored) eventually reaching a point that says: What do you know? The truth is boring indeed!
There is no conflict in this play. There is no special place to which the characters are trying to get. The play takes the form of a serious talk (with not such serious acting) about the serious problems of our governing system that sometimes intentionally makes space for a few little jokes just to keep us focused.
There is a third character, but we never see her. The actress Rozi is an invisible character who from time to time takes the focus away from the other characters with her strange noises. I believe she is there to remind us that it’s a play we are watching. We can laugh a little, we can enjoy it. But she is also there to remind us what a key role in the decision-making of the bureaucratic world is played by the “female erotica” – element.
To my mind, the whole point of this play is to allow us to understand the sad reality in which we exist. We need to see the dirty agreements that are constantly being made behind closed doors, even if it means contaminating the stage with such horrific truths. In fact, if it has come to this, than I am supportive of putting on stage plays with such intentions.
Dukagjin Podrimaj plays the Theatre Director and Shpëtim Selmani plays the role of the bureaucratic guy. The personification of the director was executed perfectly by Podrimaj, making me feel each gram of his frustration, anger, tiredness, and hopelessness. He justified each and every word and action made by his character, to the point that the play felt a bit one-sided.
Though Podrimaj convinces completely as the Director, alongside him Selmani is less persuasive as the Inspector. Or maybe it’s just me not remembering how bureaucratic types are around here, and Selmani is indeed doing the best to paint a portrait of such not-serious, grotesque and common guys like the one around here, in Kosovo.
Watching this play feels like sitting in your favorite café. You find a good chair in a beautiful spot and your favorite waiter comes to take your order. You tell him that you trust his choice and with a very excited face he promises you the best drink, with all-natural ingredients. He disappears only to come back with a beautifully decorated cup and he tells you that it’s something original that he’s been working on these last few days. He assures you that it’s very delicious and you trust him just like all the other times when he proved it to you. But then, suddenly the boss shows up and he takes your drink, doesn’t let you try it, while coming to the conclusion that this is not what you ever wanted! And then he makes the waiter bring you a whole different ugly-tasting drink that contains “more than natural ingredients” that according to him are supposed to satisfy you. And what is left for you to do if things are going to work this way? To never come back there!
This does not mean that I have come to the same conclusion as in the previous paragraph. It just means that, like a whole bunch of people in this country, we will soon get tired of drinking ugly-tasting drinks and we will rise to say no! No to bad theatre. No to bad governments. No to bad actors. Yes: to new opportunities, even if that creates more of everything I have mentioned. We are just going to have to keep on fighting.
Author: Jeton Neziraj//Director: Agon Myftari//Cast: Dukagjin Podrimaj, Shpëtim Selmani