Sasho Ognenovski in Belgrade
17 April 2023
This sharp and observant play speaks of an inherited and politically instinctive “tyranny”, drawing principally from the Sophocles original.
Bojan Dimitrijevic as Tiresia.
Photo credit: Nikola Babic.
The Sophocles text has the essential interpretation of the myth of the ruler who, looking for the cursed one in the kingdom, encounters himself, a progenitor and a murderer. In that realm, it seems that theatrically there is not much room for interventions given the solid organic nature of Hellenic tragedies, but there is a ample space for transformations and transpositions when we consider that the subsequent reference points for this tragedy in both political and social terms are so varied.
Vito Taufer’s directing approach moves through the transitive political nerve cells dislocating the action here, besides us involving the clergy, but through the text of the chorus and the choirmaster, and not through the character of the prophet Tiresias whose aspect is a separate analytical entity.
At first glance solidly grounded, the director’s approach doesn’t impress so much with its atypical nature, as with its constructed realism, which occupies a period of time very close to us, dealing with the remains of the past social construct entering through a small door in democratic processes.
Taufer’s Oedipus multiplies his misunderstandings not only through destroyed family relations but through the systemic hierarchies that Tiresias and the priest perceive for him through a perfect “queer” variant in the first scene. However, the director wisely choses a bar as the location for the usual resolution of all political misunderstandings, as it often happens in countries undergoing change and where the appearance of those resolved misunderstandings opens up new and more complex ones.
Natasha Ninković as Jocasta.
Photo credit: Nebojsa Babic.
With the exception of the first scene, the entire play takes place in the so-called Agora bar with the music “for the soul” from the band in a smoky atmosphere. There is also a storm with torrential rain and occasional thunder. In this dense atmosphere full of tension, a conflict is born that has far-reaching consequences, and the intimate drama becomes the core of social change in which the new disguise or iteration will not change anything essential, as usually happens in the “democratic” turbulence in any country after the collapse of, let’s say, the Yugoslav Federation.
Oedipus, as interpreted by Taufer, returns to where he came from, from the crowd where no one recognizes him, to suffer his perversion or commit his aberrant behaviour which he “neither saw nor investigated”, an ordinary man who becomes a victim of circumstances as today’s social structures are victims of coincidences and sets of circumstances.
Amid terrifying background events, in Taufer’s view of the source material, the prophet Tiresias plays a significant role; he’s brought to the stage in a “queer” variant, and by pronouncing the basic tragic fate of Oedipus, he successfully adapts to the traditional interior by calling on innate instincts and natural behaviour that Oedipus, the ruler, does not recognize.
Milan Marić and Srdjan Timarov. Photo credit: Nebojsa Babic.
In this modernized context, the acting energy is valuable mostly because of the perfect fit of Sophocles’ characters to the updated landscape. Milan Marić’s Oedipus is a complex character with a strong emotional range. This young actor has a formidable technical armoury which allows him to portray his Oedipus with a deft, exact delineation which frankly amazes.
With this brilliant creation, Marić reminds us of the immortal creations of the young Olivier and Gielgud who contrived to assemble the very dust or particles of theatre into unforgettable characters. Marić’s Oedipus moves through the suffocated corridors of misunderstanding, and manages to survive self-punishment through all his doubts.
The Oedipus created by this fantastic actor’s intelligence smolders slowly and never scatters the energy of the role through unwise use of emotional passages. Marić conveys the cadence of Oedipus’ suffering and layers it with virtuoso-like touches. In Oedipus at Colonus, Oedipus says: “And if when I was born in misery, as I was born, I met my parent, not knowing whom I met or what I did, and killed him, how can you justly blame the unconscious hand ?”, a dilemma through which Marić guides his creation, sensing the curse of this sinful twenty-first century.
Natasha Ninković’s Jocasta blends immense sadness with a passion that can be sensed in her gaze from the first scene. This outstanding actress meets her mother/wife in another misunderstanding, the female one, and carries with it cruelty and an uncompromising nature. Through a beautiful monologue, she creates a fulcrum for her fate and retreats under the onslaught of shame into the darkness that she announces with a moment of contempt as a coda to her first-rate acting creation.
Somewhere among them is Srdjan Timarov’s sharp and cold Creon. The actor shapes this character with great skill into a cold, rational and ambitious contender who, as the “next one”, knows how to clean up the blood after the reckoning of the unfit or weak. Timarov’s Creon is brazen and extremely cruel, a character who in his “righteousness” hides what will come after Oedipus which is a deepening of gender and political hatred.
Of the other characters, Bojan Dimitrijevic’s accomplished Tiresias deserves mention. He lends his androgynous function to the circumstances whereby the director, rightly and quite blatantly, throws this myth away. Dimitrijevic plays this character in a manner of easy puzzlement and calmness with fantastic rhetorical power and mild irony that becomes fatal in the realization of Oedipus.
This character in Taufer’s concept is not a religiously placed icon, it is a figure that comes from the heat of an elusive realm where stories about the Sphinx and the mystery of Laius, Oedipus’ father is partially retold to him by the Messenger from Corinth in an excellent acting interpretation by Zoran Cvijanović who at that aforementioned bar arrives as a purposeful traveler to bring what Oedipus doesn’t want to hear.
It’s true that none of the characters in this paradigmatic tragedy of Sophocles wants to hear the truth, and that’s another pillar of its presentation in this time. Truth is a resounding element in the plays of modern dramatists, and in this tragedy it’s a prison from which even Oedipus’ daughters Antigone and Ismene will not escape. Lazar Bodroža’s dark scenographic creation perfectly reflects the timing of decisions through song and drink, while the dark-coloured suits of Marija Marković Miloev hide the falsities of the public figures at this time, a theme that is constantly repeating itself.
This organic visual fit is also supported by the music of Robert Peshut (known as “Magnifico”) and Alexander Peshut Schatz!*whose distorted gaiety creates a note of cynicism.
In Oedipus at Colonus the chorus utters prophetically: “For when youth has passed in its whirling train, trouble after trouble follows, torment upon torment, a pain, pain for eternal pain, and none escapes the whirlwinds of life. Envy, rebellion, strife, carnage and war make up the story of life. At last comes the worst and most disgusting state of unremarkable age, joyless, companionless, slow,” while Oedipus doubts that hope and love will remain in the darkness of his blindness. They’re unattainable in this play as well as utopia, while the dystopia knocks on the door of the bar, so reminding us that there was once a square and a city in that place.
*Exclamation mark is part of musician’s identity.