The Pear/Academy of performing arts Bratislava

18th-century German literature movement, Sturm und Drang, was known to have only male representatives (Klinger, Goethe, Schiller, Lenz, etc.), a fact which makes Slovakia’s student performance The Pear particularly interesting in this year’s Festival program. The title itself might be wordplay with Shakespeare’s name, as the performance was loosely based on female characters from Shakespeare’s plays (Othello, Romeo and Juliette, Macbeth, Hamlet ,and Taming of the shrew). William Shakespeare’s innovative plays with multiple sub-plots and rejection of established dramatic structure were an inspiration for young Sturm und Drang writers. A decision to use a woman’s point of view and move the spotlight to Shakespeare’s over-looked (and often tragic) heroines is a strong feminist statement by the author and director Peter Palik. The shape of a pear could also be linked to a symbolic representation of femininity (resembling the statue of Venus of Willendorf). The performance begins and ends with a harmonious mini-orchestra of 5 performers facing each other in a closed circle and playing instruments such as violin, cello, oboe, etc. Each scene is a non-verbal portrait of Juliette, Desdemone, Catherine, Mrs. Macbeth, and Ophelia, and there is a metal frame used as an element of scenography, that visually emphasizes this concept of staged character study. It would be wrong to say this is a performance solely about women, as there are frequent references of a male-dominated patriarchal world shown through oversized male coats or wigs humoristically worn as beards. The original male lover of each of the heroines (e.g. Othello, or Macbeth) never appears on the stage. Instead, mannequins are used to create the dynamics within the scene, as all the actresses are graduate students of the puppetry department. The mannequin is, however, deconstructed and each character in the performance is given only one piece of it (legs, or a hand, or head). Only by looking at the whole is it possible to recreate the image of this fragmented male figure with no identity. The scenes have diverse genres; Desdemone’s part has intimate erotic undertones, Julietta’s is tragic and we see her mourning her lover, and the third, central one among these 5 poetic images, has elements of comedy and farce. Catherine was depicted as a physically strong woman (with transparent plastic balloons serving as muscles) fighting her lover for domination. The role of the ill-tempered Catherine was perhaps the most physically demanding one and the actress/performer Mariana Bodyová fully delivered it as we watched her externalize her anger on the stage. Her scene was also a needed antipode in deepening the exploration of femininity; not all female characters in this performance are fragile or sensual. Desdemona’s scene, performed by Veronika Trungelová, relied on the technically skilled and precise use of belly muscles while interacting with the puppet, and Lady Macbeth physically merged with living performers to add to her giant bodily stature and reach for the stars (ie. lights in the ceiling). The costumes, done by Viktória Csányiová, are creatively aligned with the temperament or destinies of the characters through colors and materials. Julietta’s costume is dominated by gentle pastel colors, Catherine wears red stockings above her head, made to look like horns, and Ophelia is hidden under a long wavy veil, reminiscent of both a wedding and a river in which she drowned in the original play. The Pear is a fresh and modern take on the various aspects of femininity, drawing inspiration from the Shakesperian world.

AUTHOR: Ajla Medanhodzic