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An Unfortunate Tale Of Not Finding the Truth

It was on Sunday, 17th of September 2017, when several incidents changed the daily routine in Belgrade. The streets of Serbia’s capital were full of police guarding the area where the Pride Parade was about to start, and by noon Kralja Milana Street was already filled with loud beats and pop music. All passers-by were met by countless colorful balloons, rainbow flags and the generally positive vibe of the relatively small gathering outside the Yugoslav Drama Theatre.

PetrovićAt that time, in the same building, the UTE held the second part of its Conference on European Theatre Structures, which was attended by directors, cultural journalists, politicians and artistic directors from theaters of Austria, Bulgaria, Greece, Romania, Russia, Serbia and Luxembourg. An evening performance of Luigi Pirandello’s Right You Are, If You Think So, directed by Jagoš Marković, was also part of this two-day programme. The theatre production had already premiered earlier this year in July to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the birth of this Italian Nobel Prize laureate for Literature. The play itself, as for its interpretation, greatly corresponds to our current post-truth society, and provides a considerable potential for communicating directly with the audience. In short, life in a post-truth world represents a kind of an existential model, where a person distortedly perceives their surroundings due to the overwhelming amount of information or their own laziness to think critically.

Right You Are, If You Think So, directed by Jagoš Marković | Yugoslav Drama Theatre in Belgrade © Nenad Petrović

Regarding the characters of Pirandello’s drama, it is certainly their laziness that drives them into the wheel of sensational suspicions and scandalous wishes that mask their lack of identity and absence of personality. As they are trying to find out the truth, which—from their perspective—stands for a clear resolution, a simplified solution or just a clarification of the storyline they’ve plotted (and which therefore has no solution), their actions are used to demonstrate something disturbing about the human mentality and men’s weakness. Pirandello’s characters are so-called prominent citizens from an unspecified town who have the permanent need to pester someone, and to define others solely because of their changing mood, desires and suspicions. The trigger for this social fuss is a strange married couple and a mother-in-law that newly moves to town, awaking its citizens from their daily apathy. Once they are awake, so is their nosiness, and they are adamant about finding out personal details about their new neighbours.

The theme of identity is symbolised by a huge golden standing mirror, placed unwieldy to the left side of the forestage, vertically to the audience. However, considering its size and symbolic meaning, it’s odd that it’s only used once by a single character, a rather provocative old man Lamberto Laudisi. The scene where he’s staring at his own reflection, doubting not just his clarity but also identity, serves as a manifest of the incapability to recognize the truth. Other characters ignore the mirror with great confidence and, instead of looking at themselves in the reflection, they intensely aim their focus on somebody else.

Besides the mirror, there are only a few other objects on stage, such as several upholstered chairs and a chandelier, once used as a secret microphone. At the very end of the performance, Laudisi climbs on the chandelier, then he’s lifted up a few meters and hangs there as a sign of insanity that took over all of the characters. At the same time, the upset group of citizens is having a fight; meanwhile the stage walls made of green velvet screens collapse, revealing the backstage and the theatre machinery. This abstract scene, designed by Jagoš Marković himself, may at first evoke an interior of a distasteful parlour or a forest, where the characters are lost. After the breakdown, it may then refer to the general chaos and inability to distinguish between reality and illusion.

The costumes designed by Bojana Nikitović support the stylized caricature form of acting, reminding us of Gogol’s collective of small-town officers from The Government Inspector, similarly trapped in their own idiocy. A rather traditional caricature approach strengthens the comedic nature of the characters’ actions; however the form of conversational salon comedy is quickly exhausted, especially on such a big stage. The spectator promptly follows the narrative based on the constant changing of “facts” and their negations. It’s difficult to stay focused , even in just about 90 minutes. Sadly, the show doesn’t offer a vision of the idiocy of society in a contemporary context. It follows the original story without any adaptations that would attract the viewer’s attention, nor does it provoke them to ponder the content. Regarding the production’s aesthetics, the abstract set rather reminds us of socialistic theatre productions from the late 50s than a space related to today’s reality. In the end, this theatre piece keeps its distance to today’s spectator and real life, despite its very lively and topical message.


Published on 25 September 2017 (Article originally written in Czech)