WITH fortuitous timing, the Edinburgh Festival's director Frank
Dunlop chose this year to emphasize Soviet and Eastern European
drama in the theater portion of the festival that ended Sept. 1.
Against a backdrop that included the Soviet coup attempt, the
independence of the Baltic republics, and the struggles of
Yugoslavia, the drama of decades of repressive governments was being
"Today," according to Czechoslovakian director Roman Polak, "the
cultural control is the audience."
Times have changed indeed. In common with theater directors in
other East European countries, Mr. Polak has been familiar with
other forms of "cultural control." He adds, however, that the state
control in the provincial town of Martin - whose National Theatre of
Martin is a workshop for young and aspiring actors - had never been
as rigorous as it was in Bratislava, the center of Czechoslovakian
But the fall of communist regimes and moves toward democracy are
not always as good for the arts as might be imagined. One form of
censorship may have gone. But audience popularity may not be the
best alternative quality control. And lack of money is often a big
As Polak puts it, "The theater is free now, but poor. The
President (Vaclav Havel) has power - but no money."
Pols two impressive productions, "Baal" (Bertolt Brecht's first
play) and "The Dispute" (by 18th-century French writer Pierre
Marivaux) have both been in the repertoire of this notable theater
for a number of years. If the festival in Edinburgh strives to show
what is actually happening in drama in a given country, these two
plays were not the most representative choice. They were productions
coming out of conditions under the old regime.
Both plays have a dark aspect; "Baal" is a diametric revolt
against the status quo (and ordinary decencies) of society, the
other (though more light-heartedly) is concerned with a kind of
guinea pig experiment. Each play describes the effects of a powerful
control of individual lives, and, given a contemporary directorial
twist, would have served as protest in communist Czechoslovakia. The
plays then would have become a form of "metaphorical theater" to use
Pols own phrase.
WHAT is popular in his country at the moment, says Polak (who
went through "a very dark period" directing a lot of Kafka a few
years back) is "funny, humorous theater clearly not to his taste.
But, he says philosophically, "It's a known fact that the period
immediately after a revolution is a dead one for theater."
His two festival plays are distinctly alive, however, and they
are in fact historic. Polak had wondered if his rendering of "Baal"
would "still be good for audiences after the revolution." (It was.)
This raises the problem of writers and directors no longer being
able to point barbs at, or subtly undermine, an "opposition." Which
means, Polak says, that "now theater needs to be more about private
emotion, feeling, relationships." Judging from the evidence of
"Baal" and "The Dispute," that was his way even under the communist
regime. "I never made head-on political points in my productions,"
Polak, and most of those associated with these two productions,
are no longer part of the Theatre of Martin. They have changed, for
this period in history, from theater on stage to the theater of real
life. President Havel (whose own play has been toured by the company
in the past) has made it clear that money is needed for
reconstruction, and cannot be made available for theaters.
Matej Landl, who plays Baal, Brecht's anti-hero, muses that it's
a "bad time now" for theater in his country. Young people are not
going to see plays in Czechoslovakia they can't afford the
tickets." But he does hope that it will only take about five years
before the fortunes of the theater revive.
Mr. Dunlop, the festival director, made it a theme of this
festival to concentrate on these works from Eastern European
countries - in addition to Czechoslovakia, there were productions
from Poland, Romania, Yugoslavia - not to mention drama and music
from the cities of Berlin, Leningrad, and Moscow. …