In the La MaMa return of Zagreb Youth Theatre of Croatia, a man plans and delivers a speech--a letter to the late activist playwright Heiner Müller--within the highly controlled and monitored space of Berlin's Tegel Airport.
The play, "A Letter to Heiner Müller" (Pismo Henieru Mülleru), reflects the discomfort of living in strictly controlled conditions, where locations like a hotel, metro, street or office are places of modern control and fear. Written by Goran Fercec (Croatia), directed by Bojan Djordjev (Serbia), the piece is performed by three actors, who roam from one control point to another in today's reality like Kafka's Josef K. Zagreb Youth Theatre is one of Europe's leading cutting-edge ensembles.
The hero of "A Letter to Heiner Müller" is returning to Berlin to take part in an East European writers' congress. In the first two thirds of the play, he goes through a series of simple instructions and tasks moving himself toward a sinister goal that is previously determined yet unknown to the audience. The atmosphere is suggestive; there is a sense of barely controlled fear and anxiety, but also of excitement about what is to come. One expects something radical; something that will put hero's very existence into question but will also liberate him. An act of murder or terrorism springs to mind. Ultimately, we learn that the goal is simply a guerrilla performance in a public space--the terminal of Berlin's Tegel Airport. Although the deed seems banal, in the context of highly controlled spaces, where established social choreography does not allow for any improvisation, even a harmless act creates social discomfort, if not panic. This 'artistic intervention' will be understood as a threat to order, therefore, a terrorist act.
The protagonist is played by three actors – Goran Bogdan, Danijel Ljuboja and Frano Maškovic – who represent the "modern man," cultivated, polite and submerged in the impersonal world of unlimited technical possibilities and ever more complicated rules. Edginess, fear and panic run through the entire performance. The hero is lost in the corridors of administrative bans and constantly monitored by unseen eyes. Danger from terrorist attack or the setting of a bomb in such a perfect system constantly hangs in the air, as well as the possibility that the system will respond by even more morbid control.
The set design is a waiting room, in which the audience is sitting along the auditorium walls as though they had accidentally found themselves there. There is a huge gray cube stuck like a bone in the throat in the middle of the visual experience, giving the play a tone of diabolical insecurity in a perfect world. There is also a breaking up of the action into small parts, not allowing the story to develop. This leaves the audience in an uncomfortable struggle to comprehend it in fragments, which is the basic intellectual motto and aesthetic charge of the play. The piece is designed by Siniša Ilic and Doris Kristic, with lighting by Marinko Maricic, choreography by Selma Banich and sound design by Nina Levkov.
This production is a NY and world premiere and will be performed mostly in English; the rest is subtitled. The translation is by Mima Simic.
Critic Vedrana Klepica described the production in the magazine Croatian Theatre, writing "A minimalist monochromatic stage design, intimately organized audience space and similarly designed lightning in a small space, all serve to shift the focus on Fercec’s text and give the spectator/listener a feeling of certain voyeurism, as if they’re witnessing something very intimate, a hacking of somebody’s stream of consciousness, which gradually, and with breaks and repetitions, creates tension and dramaturgically moves towards a concrete goal and event, creating in this free form drama nevertheless a strong sense of tension and direction." The piece was deemed atypical for the Croatian theater scene and praiseworthy for the boldness and contemporaneity it exudes.
Playwright Goran Fercec writes that the play started out as a deconstruction of the myth of Heracles, explaining that his approach was not so much toward the narrative story of the myth, but toward the concepts of body, masculinity, strength, rage, fury and power that help form the cultural and social image of men in the Balkan region. He writes, "During the process I became aware that it is necessary to find an antipode to this myth, by antipode meaning a real person, a figure who recognizes leftovers of this mythical super-body in contemporaneity." Heinrich Müller came to mind because part of his writing tried to re-articulate parts of Greek mythology, detecting political questions and situations from the twentieth century. The text was conceived as a series of situations defining the "irritating field of existence" and someone who refuses to submit to them. It also acquired the name "A Letter to Heiner M."