03 Apr Teatralny “Something will happen tomorrow. I can feel it”
Blood on the Cat’s Neck or Marilyn Monroe vs. the Vampires, directed by Anja Suša, “Hieronim Konieczka” Polish Theatre in Bydgoszcz
A woman comes to her husband’s mistress. She begs her to end the romance that is destroying her family. Her pleading “please, give him back to me” is at first a deeply moving scene, however, it quickly becomes miserably banal, then transforming into astonishingly incredible accusation, conspicuously unnatural. The individual components of language, common and “convincing”, are arranged in a conglomerate of affected clichés that seems to exist along with the characters who utter them.
Impossibility or rather the inability of communication goes far beyond the borders of the absurd. The mistress (Maciej Pesta) is sitting stiffly at a long table, the wife (Małgorzata Witkowska) is standing behind her. Their words flow like a cold torrent, followed by absurd gestures – marked slapping, slapstick clapping, synchronized with brocade dust blowing. Blunt summary of the communication failure that crowns the scene is contained here in mechanically articulated, previously disclosed fragments, problems with words of Phoebe Zeitgeist, alien, who in Fassbinder’s drama documents the life of Earthians.
Rainer Werner Fassbinder mastered this particular ability to locate, identify and stimulate the most sensitive points of the social tissue; those that are most strongly hidden, the timidest ones, those that are consciously avoided in everyday narratives. This merciless vivisection provoked even more because it occurred with the use of the most typical, everyday, banal, seemingly the most transparent organisms. Respected, admired, accused of unimaginative scandalizing, kitsch, plagiarism – during his short life, organized through the compulsive need for continuous work, Fassbinder created over forty feature-length films, over twenty stage dramatizations, seventeen plays, and four radio games. All of them, regardless of the selected convention and stylistics, are filled with disagreement with petty-bourgeois, consumerist and conformist reality, provoking controversy and throwing a challenge to Fassbinder’s closest, after the war soothed, Wirtschaftswunder society.
Written in 1971, and not dramatized on Polish stage till now, Blood on the Cat’s Neck has a dramatic open-ended design (similar to the famous Preparadise Sorry Now, one of the most dramatized Fassbinder’s works, adapted in Poland in 1993 by Grzegorz Malecki for Studio Theatre in Lodz). In the play, alien – Phoebe Zeitgeist, comes to Earth with the journalistic mission to describe “human democracy”. Her observations include typical everyday, trivial situations and conversations between people that are mutually connected under most widespread relation models. The Teacher (Jakub Ulewicz), the Policeman (Małgorzata Trofimiuk), the Girl (Beata Bandurska), the Model (Martyna Peszko), the Soldier (Konrad Wosik), the wife of the deceased soldier (Małgorzata Witkowska), the Butcher (Anita Sokołowska), the Lover/Mistress (Maciej Pesta) are live costumes, holders of the “spirit of the times”, stereotyped citizens of a modern democratic society. All of them are also average, representative types, used by Fassbinder to revive his texts and pictures, condemning them to the tireless reincarnation and painful repetition of destiny. There is also auto-thematic figure of gender-undefined Lover/Mistress, that grows out of the need of changing his own identity, present in the entire work of the dramaturge and director. Blood on the Cat’s Neck is the record of conversations, confessions and complaints, most frequently incomplete, without any finals. They are weaved of hackneyed, trivial, and often tiresomely vulgar phrases.
Anja Suša places the characters, which resonate a defective “voice of the people”, in a space that recalls an obscure canteen or more likely a scrappy dummy. Public space, “any”, but also outlined in the manner of a temporary created place. Set designer, Zorana Petrov, built on the stage of the Polish Theatre in Bydgoszcz a claustrophobic box in neutral beige color, with a long table covered with a tablecloth, which initially was placed under one of the side walls, but quite soon it was pushed to the middle of the stage. The depth of the box is occupied by a narrow stage with prominent doors – the place taken by the observer, Phoebe Zeitgeist. The protagonists accommodated in this space initially resemble a solid, colorless mass. A huge, many-headed body, which after some time, is broken down into separate entities. Neutral beige costumes done by Maja Mirković transform into much more distinctive and individualized forms – military coat, widow’s black dress, butcher’s work apron. Inviting them to the existence, the actors were given an enticing proposal to let their imagination run wild. It should be recognized that they readily used the opportunity, and the effects of their work are mesmerizing in most of the play.
The protagonists, established by agreement, are alternately approaching each other and moving away from each other in the chaotic rhythm of exaggerated, caricature-perused gestures and poses. They face a series of differently configured situations, where each of them, without exception, is based on emotional, physical, economic violence. Nobody is immune to the status of victim, regardless of the balance of power in a given relation. Phoebe Zeitgeist, interpreted in Suša’s spectacle by a group of alternating amateur actors (Jagoda Długosz, Grażyna Grzelak, Maria Jazel, Halina Kanarkowska, Sławomir Majczyk, Emilia Malczyk, Teresa Perlik, Monika Skorobohata), at first silently watch this network of human dependences. After a while, each of the following fragments of the spectacle ends with her brief statement, built of fragments of sentences that had been previously heard. The formation of phrases pronounced by the alien gives the impression of a random structure, composed of randomly selected words. However, these mechanical, often clumsily articulated abstracts in the play are the instrument that exposes the most painful, the most unpenetrated and sheltered spots on the social body. Towards the end of the spectacle, Phoebe speaks more frequently. After a while, she leaves her space in the depths of the stage. Anja Suša is bringing her among the Earthians who are destroying each other. Phoebe stares at them, touching them, but after the final self-destruction of people, she takes their place.
Dramatization of Blood on the Cat’s Neck from Bydgoszcz, with the title here expanded to Blood on the Cat’s Neck or Marilyn Monroe vs. the Vampires, is guided by the language derived from Fassbinder’s search and doubts. “Maybe we wanted too strongly to connect theater performance with social diagnosis and we drew the conclusion too quickly that theater play has the same instruments as well as opinion journalism”. This is interesting, because the Polish Theatre logo clearly integrated in the scenography design, reminds us that we are dealing with the stage that is known for its highly formalized, but at the same time, it is clear even without words, often political performances. The ultimately absurd, even monstrous shape of each of the hyper-realistic scenes of Suša’s play, colourful variety of theatrical gestures, mixed sequences and styles have a strong impact – as is the case of Fassbinder’s art that compromises theatre and film form, distanced in relation to languages – on the mechanisms that construct the modern theatre, expose to doubt their communication capabilities and reveal their manipulative properties.
Anja Suša seems to end her play by double gesture. The limit of “democracy” is too prominent here, and in the fairy tale staffage – all “human” protagonists, established by seven dwarfs and a terrorist version of Snow White, drop dead. They are replaced by Phoebe Zeitgeist, multiplied into eight characters with “cosmic” lights on their necks. Off-speaker voices of the animators, who participate in the show, provoke discussion about the spectator’s place in a contemporary theater, and discussion about contemporary theater in general. Regardless of the social, political, existential or artistic context, for placing an outstanding play directed by Anja Suša, and although it is paradoxically contrary to the mighty burden of suspicion and distance written in Fassbinder’s text, the director leaves us with the assurance that “something will happen tomorrow”.