Subversive Stages: Theater in Pre- and Post-Communist Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria

Subversive Stages: Theater in Pre- and Post-Communist Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria

Subversive Stages: Theater in Pre- and Post-Communist Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria

Subversive Stages: Theater in Pre- and Post-Communist Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria

Synopsis

Exploring theater practices in communist and post-communist Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria, this book analyzes intertextuality or “inter-theatricality” as a political strategy, designed to criticize contemporary political conditions while at the same time trying to circumvent censorship. In the Soviet bloc the theater of the absurd, experimentation, irony, and intertextual distancing (estrangement) were much more than mere aesthetic language games, but were planned political strategies that used indirection to say what could not be said directly. Plays by Romanian, Hungarian and Bulgarian dramatists are examined, who are “retrofitting” the past by adapting the political crimes and horrifying tactics of totalitarianism to the classical theatre (with Shakespeare a favorite) to reveal the region’s traumatic history. By the sustained analysis of the aesthetic devices used as political tools, Orlich makes a very strong case for the continued relevance of the theater as one of the subtlest media in the public sphere. She embeds her close readings in a thorough historical analysis and displays a profound knowledge of the political role of theater history.

Excerpt

Despite changing historical, political, and economic conditions, the preoccupation with the communist era remains a timely endeavor in most countries that experienced this regime, and a steady stream of artistic and critical interventions dealing with this topic continues to emerge. Ileana Alexandra Orlich’s Subversive Stages fits neatly into this tendency, and constitutes an ambitious and meticulous investigation of landmark dramatic revisionings centered on one of the most horrific aspects in recent European history—the totalitarian dictatorships in the former Soviet bloc. Orlich’s important monograph stands out for the following reasons: it is a single-authored and tightly contextualized study on a broad spectrum of dramatic outputs that in most other cases would be addressed in an edited collection of essays; it deals with the theatrical and playwriting tradition of three countries not routinely discussed together (Bulgaria, Hungary, and Ro mania); and it provides a pertinent commentary rooted in in-depth textual analysis and sociopolitical contextualization rather than the more ephemeral genre of performance criticism. the book brings together eight plays by a range of innovative authors from these three countries, some internationally known and widely staged, and others predominantly active in their indigenous theater sphere. the plays have in common a strong preoccupation with revealing aspects of totalitarianism as experienced in these countries, and have been written over the last three decades or so, thus some predating the fall of the Berlin Wall and the demise of communism and others appearing as a reflection on a bygone era. in addition to texts by contemporary authors, the volume also includes what might be termed as an Ur-play by Mikhail Bulgakov, discussed here as an avant la lettre transposition of a classic source and as a model of sorts for the other . . .

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