Prešov National Theatre, Prešov, SLOVAKIA
Umberto Eco, Peter Brajerčík, Júlua Rázusová
directed by Júlia Rázusová
Overstepping the limits of freedom.
Co-author Peter Brajerčík enters the underworld of disinformation in a monodrama inspired by Umberto Eco. The modern-day thug at the centre of his play is a reflection of contemporary European reality. He bends the truth as he likes, but his brisk sense of humour rouses our sympathy. After all, he knows all too well what Germans, Americans and even Slovaks are like. Even when he is wrong, it is easy to take him at his word. That is why he can now contort and fob off his half-truths, somewhere on the margins of society.
This production, which was staged at the Prešov National Theatre under the guidance of director Júlia Rázusová and earned the Grand Prix at the New Drama festival 2019, keenly demonstrates that manipulation truly is easy. Especially when society is prone to believe in fake news, hoaxes and conspiracy theories, only in order to confirm their own antisemitism, nationalism and antisystemic sentiments. But Moral Insanity is about more than just a high-quality script, humour and a theme that surpasses geographical boundaries. The actor’s performance is made no easier by the choice to involve obstacles, which add dynamism to the play and aptly underscore its message.
This production was co-selected by the Spectator Programme Board of the Be SpectACTive! project.
The Prešov National Theatre was established in autumn of 2013, and its very name, coupled with the slogan “Prešov, a good place to die”, clearly suggests that its defining traits will include self-irony, local context and an effort not to take oneself too seriously. Its founders, dramaturge and playwright Michaela Zakuťanská and director Júlia Rázusová, chose an unusual path when they were fresh out of theatre school. The primary aim of most graduates (not only) of the Academy of Performing Arts was and remains to stay in Bratislava at all costs. The two not only left the capital of their own accord but even returned to their hometown of Prešov. While it is a regional city that enjoys a strong theatrical tradition, it is much too far from the capital in a country as centralized as Slovakia.
The work of this small, independent theatre resonated in the Czechoslovak context from the first première on, and this is confirmed by a handful of awards and performances at festival exhibits. The most recent is the Grand Prix from the Nová drama/New Drama Festival 2019, which the theatre earned for their play Moral Insanity.
Against the blueprint of Umberto Eco’s Prague Cemetery, a work reflecting on the legends and myths of the late 19th century, Rázusová and Brajerčík created an exceptionally well-written play for Slovak standards. Moral Insanity is the testimony of a man standing in the middle of a cabbage field. A man who wants to be and is clear about life. No liquid modernity, no complex answers. His world is defined by the space he has fenced in, where his rules apply, and anyone who comes to encroach on it certainly comes to harm. His world, after all, is supposed to be homogenous. Difference equals threat.
Eco’s myths and legends, which figure here as hoaxes, urban legends and conspiracy theories, are presented without the creators indulging in undue moralization or preachiness. On the contrary, they rely on a good dose of humour to present a world that makes our hair stand increasingly on end. It is almost unbelievable how, in 2019, the narrative of a malicious Jewish banker plotting against the nation is still alive. It is alive – not somewhere on the margins of society – but in the daily vocabulary of European prime ministers. It makes no difference whether the prime minister at stake represents the European People’s Party (Viktor Orbán), the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (Róbert Fico) or the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (Andrej Babiš) in the international context.
However, Moral Insanity is not only about its disturbing subject matter. Perhaps not as conspicuously as in Rázusová’s other works, but here too, one feels that Slovak theatre has not seen many creators in its history who would understand the role of the actor’s body in drama based on the spoken word as intensely as this director. Peter Brajerčík’s performance represents one of the cardinal moments (at least) of the past season in both independent and traditional theatres. Under Rázusová’s guidance, the actor – still a member of the youngest actors’ generation – displays an exceptional combination of a philosophical grasp of the text, rational work with expressive detail and skill at controlling the emotionality of his performance. From the introduction, where he focuses all internal tension and unrest into one, essentially static point on stage – his body, to the explosion of madness that engulfs the whole dramatic space in the end.
The production, which was co-selected by the Audience Programme Board of Association Divadelná Nitra’s international project Be SpectACTive! (and, for this reason, is not included in the curatorial selection), represents no more than an excerpt from the work of the curator of Divadelná Nitra’s Slovak programme section. It cannot be described as a typical work by the Prešov National Theatre either. The references to Prešov are missing. Previous productions have, moreover, mostly focused on more private stories. But it is certainly an excerpt whose significance presents a defining moment of the 2018/2019 season in Slovakia.
text: Umberto Eco, Peter Brajerčík
direction and stage concept: Júlia Rázusová
music and space musical concept: Martin Husovský
cooperation with set design and costumes: Diana Strauszová
scene creation: Lenka Kucháreková
light design: Lukáš Katuščák
production: Linda Durkáčová
cast: Peter Brajerčík
Júlia Rázusová (1982)
graduated in aesthetics and Slovak language and literature from the Faculty of Arts of the Prešov University and in theatre directing and dramaturgy from the Academy of Performing Arts in Bratislava. Her directorial style is characterised by elements of physical and experimental theatre. In 2009, she completed a course on physical theatre at Rose Bruford College, London. Since 2013, she is artistic director of the independent Prešov National Theatre, which she co-founded with dramaturge Michaela Zakuťanská. She was a director in the international project Platforma 11+ and has collaborated with most theatres in Slovakia, for instance Astorka Korzo ‘90, Andrej Bagar Theatre in Nitra, Alexander Duchnovič Theatre in Prešov, the Slovak National Theatre, the State Theatre Košice, J. G. Tajovský Theatre in Zvolen, Žilina City Theatre and others. She earned the Dosky 2018 award for Best Direction of the Season with her production of Joël Pommerat’s The Reunification of the Two Koreas (State Theatre Košice, staged at Divadelná Nitra 2018). Her play Moral Insanity, produced at the Prešov National Theatre, earned her the Grand Prix at the Nová dráma/New Drama Festival 2019.