KOSOVO THEATRE REVIEWS
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
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Kosovo Theatre Reviews
Reviews and creative responses to theatre productions in Kosovo