Marriage play/Academy of arts, Serbia

It is no surprise Albee’s drama reaching back to his absurdist roots (ie. theatre of the absurd) found its way to this year’s festival as it resonates with the present reality on multiple levels. The play portrays dysfunctional marriage dynamics and was a student graduate project directed by graduates of the Academy of arts in Serbia (Andrijana Mecava and Tanasije Cakic, who are also the actors). What initially seemed like a simplistic chamber play with 2 actors discussing their marital problems, grew into a fastpaced intimate spectacle rich with relational and audio-visual twists. This quirky dynamism partially exists in Albee’s original play with its self-aware characters and sharp witty dialogues, but it was successfully brought out in the frontline and used to creatively experiment with the rhythm and the setting. The full concept of the show reveals itself in the closing scenes, as it becomes clear we are watching a fictional reality TV show predicting the outcomes of modern marriages. Our protagonists (dressed in white, as if newlyweds) leave the stage with a decent chance of success and a marriage therapy coupon. This relatively optimistic ending offering a solution works well for the concept (as well as for the festival theme), but it somewhat interferes with the determinants of a theatre of the absurd and the circular structure of its plays. The characters in the original play, Jack and Gillian, are in their 50s and their mutual 30-year-old past is gradually revealed throughout one long discussion within a single room. In Mecava’s and Cakic’s adaptation, the protagonists slide back and forth via the fragmented timeline of their marriage and space (jumping from the first date to pregnancy, intimate moments, 11th year of marriage, old age, etc). The stage chemistry between Mecava and Cakic was initially hard to recognize, but it naturally developed as the tension within the scenes grew. Just like in Albee’s famous play Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolfe, Marriage play is based on a role-play and psychological games between 2 unhappy lovers making it almost impossible to distinguish between the (stage) truth and the illusion. The set design was minimalistic but it was supported by playful indie sketches displayed on the wide background screen. The video screen was used to map the rooms within the house or to count the marital years. The costumes (Milos Janjic) added a lot to the story in terms of contextualization and charm. Jack and Gillian were changing their looks, style, and props along with the scenes; one minute they were breaking up under the umbrella on a rainy day, and the next they were dressing up for a fancy restaurant in Venice or arguing with their sleep masks on. The concept of a reality TV machine calculating love also reminds of the futuristic dystopian genre, and certain directorial tools used, such as remote ‘rewind’ button moving the narrative through the points in time, or the usage of verbal repetition and joint song recitation, mimic the robotic machinery or a glitch in the system. At the same time, it is a commentary on the validity of the entertainment industry media content we are being served. The high-intensity scenes between Jack and Gillian, in which they lose control and argue over infidelity, Jack’s animal instincts, or radical thoughts on monogamy, could be linked to Festival’s theme of Sturm und Drang, a literary movement that promoted unrestrained emotional expression and valued instinct over reason. The choice of this particular Albee’s text certainly came with challenges and restrictions, but two young actors’ mature approach to staging this play proved itself a successful endeavor.

AUTHOR: Ajla Medanhodzic