Studio Hrdinů, Prague, CZECH REPUBLIC
Jan Patočka, Miroslav Bambušek
Directed by Miroslav Bambušek
A production titled after the best-known work of Czech philosopher Jan Patočka thematises the final months of his life, beginning with his involvement in the Charter 77 movement and running to his death after brutal interrogations by State Security. Patočka saw Charter 77 as a civic initiative whose mission was to defend human rights and more broadly to rejuvenate society decimated by the powerlessness instilled during the Normalization period. Miroslav Bambušek studied Patočka’s writings to craft a vigorous and gripping theatrical essay about freedom, sacrifice, and (non)political politics.
Author and director, Miroslav Bambušek dedicates his production Heretical Essays to Jan Patočka and his philosophical and especially political (or social) engagement. The production’s title is a direct reference to Patočka’s book Heretical Essays in the Philosophy of History. It centres on the last months in the philosopher’s life, beginning with his involvement in the Charter 77 movement and running to his death after brutal interrogations by State Security. It is no biographical drama, although firmly rooted in reality – especially in the facts of the 1970s and in 2019, when we meet the writer K. (played by Stanislav Majer), who aspires to write a book about Patočka’s final three months.
In addition to the Writer and Patočka (performed by Miloslav Mejzlík), the stage sees appearances by Heraclitus, Beethoven, the President, an Investigator, and a Clown. Bambušek and company give their audience a colourful scenic essay that, besides words, also relies on music, image, physical actions, and offers an intriguing theatrical pendant to Patočka’s profound reflections about the meaning and philosophy of history. In his oeuvre Patočka fervently tackled the idea of Europe and repeatedly posed the question as to where (its) history began and what position it occupies in the global (geopolitical and ideological) order; to this he finds an answer in the care for the Soul, formulated in the philosophies of Democritus, Socrates, and Plato. Heraclitus (portrayed by philosopher Miroslav Petříček), espousing a different view, fulfils the role sort of stage provocateur and tries to grasp the teachings of the aforementioned thinkers. He introduces polemos, Greek for ‘strife’ or ‘struggle’, into Socratic discourse, which in his view reconciles both parties contending on more than just the level of language in a higher unity. So politics and power, history and poetry, life and death, law and body, language and music are all poised in life-giving opposition.
Bambušek reads Patočka’s texts rigorously and is equally rigorous in studying his biography to craft metaphorical situations and scenes stemming from them on stage. Vladimír Franz (as Beethoven, whose music Patočka wrote about and was fond of) backs the production with live music and also uses music and sound to interpose in the philosophical debates between the Writer, Patočka, and Heraclitus. The characters of the President (Husák) and State Security officers, whose interrogations brought about Patočka’s death in March 1977, are likewise paired with metaphorical figures from European literature and theatre. Bambušek succeeded in creating and intellectual biography of a philosopher who in his writings and life strove to rejuvenate society decimated by the powerlessness instilled during the Normalization period. Or alternatively, it might be a theatrical reflection of Patočka’s effort to think through and formulate concepts such as freedom, sacrifice, and (unpolitical) politics. Owing to the means of expression proper to theatre, the production presents Patočka’s contribution to Charter 77 in a very complex manner – as a dialogue of a philosophical/idealistic construct and poetry, music, image, and bodies. Interrogation scenes alternate with excerpts from the poems of Karel Hynek Mácha, home seminars and dissident debates, dialogues of former State Security and the writer, and songs as well as expressive visual images. Bambušek’s productions often call for epithets such as energetic, expressive, loud, harsh. This may be true of his early work, but in the recent years he seems to handle tempo-rhythm much more prudently, offering the spectator an opportunity of a much deeper experience of his metaphorical productions.
The pathos Bambušek channels is no longer hidden behind roaring walls of industrial sound and expressive lines spewed by actors that literally attack the audience. The director now exposes it in a more fragile, denuded, and therefore much more accessible form. The pathetic tone is offset by original imagination and surprising solutions. It does not paralyse the spectator with moralism, instead it guides him in actively filling in the open scenic metaphors and in finding his feet in ‘territory ethos’. Heretical Essays is the highlight of Bambušek’s oeuvre so far and equally one of the most important events of the recent Czech theatrical season.
authors: Jan Patočka, Miroslav Bambušek
directed by Miroslav Bambušek
set and costume design: Zuzana Krejzková
music: Vladimír Franz
dramaturgy: Jan Horák
video: Jan Daňhel, Jakub Halousek
light design: Pavel Havrda
sound design: Petr Zábrodský
cast: Miloslav Mejzlík, Stanislav Majer, Pasi Mäkelä, Jakub Gottwald, Marek Pospíchal, Vladimír Franz, Miroslav Petříček, Štěpán Chlouba
presentation at Divadelná Nitra supported by Slovak Arts Council, Ministry of Culture of the Czech Republic, SPP Foundation, Creative Europe programme of the European Union
Miroslav Bambušek (1975)
a dramatist, theatre and film director who systematically explores culture as a platform for political and social reflection. He graduated in philosophy, French, and Ancient Greek, later authoring over thirty theatre plays (such as Caligula, Hugo, Deutsches Requiem, Get the Jews), two unrehearsed opera libretti (Lenin, Heracles), and several scripts for film (such as Mine Barbora, The Postelberg Case, Bystander Effect). He is recipient of the Alfréd Radok Award in the category Best Czech play for his plays Sand (2002) and Porta Apostolorum (2004). In 2004 – 2006 he initiated and realised the highly rated project Perzekuce.cz (productions Porta Apostolorum, Dirt Road Solace, Horáková x Gottwald, The Zone). In 2009 – 2013 he co-initiated the site-specific project Ways of Energy (Zdař Bůh! in Mine Michal in Ostrava, Water in the Ecotechnical Museum in Prague, Uranium in Bunkr Drnov, Oil in the Winternitz Mills in Pardubice). He collaborates with composer P. Kofroň, who has created music for his films, such as Jan Hus – Mass for Three Dead Men (2009), and productions, such as Leave Fidel Out of It! (2007), Faggot’s Cross (2012), Cantos (2012). Besides Heretical Essays, Studio Hrdinů saw him rehearse The Waste Land by P. Zajíček (2014) and The Works by E. Jelinek (2017). Bambušek’s production Dirt Road Solace was programmed for ITF Divadelná Nitra 2006.
“Sign? Remove? Risk one’s career, honour, or even one’s life? Through a simple parallel, the director shows us that everything that might seem strictly black and white from a distance of several decades has by no means such clear contours in reality. And you only need a little to irreversibly end up somewhere you did not mean to be at all.”
(Tomáš Šťástka, idnes.cz, 27 Jan 2020)
“(…) after the final scene, which sees the stage resound with mechanical rattle, a reference to the speedway motorcycles and helicopter that deliberately disturbed Jan Patočka’s funeral, I was left in a way petrified and shaken. This was due to the energy and fruitful pathos of the production, where philosophy is action and deed, and to the quality of the portrayal of particular characters, who in a powerfully appealing way visualized what is humane and solid or to the contrary anti-human and short-lived.”
(Josef Chuchma, Divadelní noviny, 2 Feb 2020)