Okay my dear darlings, I finally got home from my night of smoked fishing on Brighton Beach. Let me tell ya, those stray cats were ready to eat me alive there. I never knew that there were so many of them running around. I guess neighborhood restaurants are doing great in these times of hunger, since there is no need for that specific cat meet on the market.
But let me leave the cat meat for another entry. Maybe it will be more appropriate to talk about its tenderness while discussing the differences between Bulgakov’s cat Begemot in his “Master and Margarita” and Sharik of his “Dog’s Heart,” who knows? This could be quite an interesting subject to discuss considering that people love cats and dogs. And shhhhh… (whispers) sometimes they eat them without knowing that they are actually doing it.
But these are not the things I want to talk with you about on this pre-winter-vertex night of cozy dreams, no. Suddenly (well not so suddenly, but okay, I’ll leave it here for the suspense’s purpose) I got this need to tell you about my biggest influences of my life.
There are a few directors in Lithuania who made this country boy fall in love with all things theater. These directors not only changed how I see theater now but also they were able to influence the future theater audiences and audiences alike.
Going to theater in Soviet countries at that time when I was growing up was equals to being educated and intelligent. If you haven’t seen one or another production everybody was talking about, you were not interesting enough to be invited to parties. So, yeah, people saw a lot of theater in these times of red and sickle and yes, most of it was really good.
Okay, so there is this Lithuanian theater director Eimuntas Nekrošius who changed a lot about Lithuanian theater, right. There are books written about him. Funny, but he is probably more popular in Italy than in Lithuania though. Why is it so, don’t ask me that, because the point is not about being popular. The point is that he was one of those directors who revolutionized theater arts.
The breaking point in Nekrošius carrier happened when he put a production of “Uncle Vanya” in 1986 on one of Lithuanian’s most famous stages. With this production he completely changed how classics were put on the stage.
Well, of course, when I say to you things like that out of the blue they mean nothing to you. You say, who cares about some theater in some Eastern European country nobody knows about, and why suddenly we should care about it?
…and you are right. There is nothing for you to care about, because firstly there is almost no way to see that production today and secondly, why should I care about you carrying? The change is understood only when it is physically lived and emotionally experienced live.
Well, my dear darlings, Nekrošius introduced to the audiences another way of “reading” classics. Classic plays became relevant again. Nekrošius got rid of heaviness of Naturalistic Theater by having the form speak the text. Naturalistic Theater became very boring. Director’s Theater started growing in popularity.
Of course saying that Nekrošius invented another type of theater is the same as saying that Madonna invented Vogueing. The change in theater was happening way before Nekrošius put that famous “Uncle Vanya” on the stage.
My theater revolution happened when I saw Nekrošius’s Nose. Well, it was something else I saw on the stage, not the actual nose of Nekrošius, you understand that, of course? Nekrošius adapted Gogol’s “The Nose” making the nose a character which represented another organ on a male body which is to this day dangling in between legs if not supervised.
It was a show about an organ men keep in their pants most of the time. In Nekrošius’s case it was out and about in the open revealing some facts about the Soviet culture. With this production it was obvious that Nekrošius was exposing way more than the organ itself.
The Nose became that simpleton intelligentsia was embarrassed to talk about. I still remember that famous scene where the character of Nose and Major Kovalyov, the character whose “nose” was cut off, went to the theater. The simpleton Nose watched a performance and absorbed it through his simpleton’s brains. He was reacting through his baser instincts watching ballerinas perform a classical dance. Ballerinas by the end of their performance were wearing heavy soldier boots instead of pointe shoes and dancing Can-Can to Nose’s entertainment. They were being groped by whom else but Nose himself after he got bored sitting in one place. Fun times, I say!
This production of “The Nose” was an absolute genius. No wonder that after it Nekrošius kind of disappeared from theater. Was he afraid that he would not be able to top his nose (pun intended) with anything else? We will, most likely, never know.
The audiences were waiting for Nekrošius’s next production as thirsty cats for that milk. Nekrošius released Pushkin’s “Little Tragedies” after “The Nose”…
…there is still that one production nobody will ever see, because it never reached audiences. It only stayed in rehearsals.
Nekrošius was rehearsing “Carmen” after releasing his “Little Tragedies” which won him a National Prize as the Best Director of the Year. Something happened with him during that period. He was not able to finish “Carmen” even though everyone was constantly talking about it.
Later we learned that Nekrošius went to rest his genius in a house nobody is proud to talk about in Lithuania. I don’t think anybody knew if Nekrošius really went to a crazy house or not, but those were the details that made my mind spin. Who doesn’t want to hear stories like that? These stories about genius artists need to be overly dramatic. We are talking theater here, so of course normal equals boring.
What came out of him after his “retreat” was absolutely mesmerizing and breathtaking. His “Hamlet” and “Three Sisters” completely shut the doors to the old ways of reading and performing any play in Lithuania’s theaters. I believe that there was no actor who didn’t want to work with Nekrošius at that time. Yes, I was one of those actors too, but don’t mention that to Nekrošius. I am still planning on playing that soldier in that play by that author (smiley face).
More importantly there were stories going around about how Nekrošius worked with his actors. We saw with our own eyes how actors spent their most famous scenes under dripping ice cube chandeliers, or under coffins, hanged above their heads, full of heavy stones dropping to the ground, or trapped inside of huge rugs from which was no way to escape. These stories were as entertaining as productions itself. They were very physical and oh so good.
This is an image from “Macbeth” where boulders were falling down while Kostas Smoriginas as Macbeth was acting on the stage:
Nekrošius’s Hamlet played by Andrius Mamontovas had to get his dagger from a huge frozen ice cube:
He had to stand with a shirt made out of paper under a dripping chandelier made from actual steal saws and ice cubes in his “to be or not to be” scene. Here are some excerpts from “Hamlet” with Mamontovas:
It was magic. No, Nekrošius was not using some tricks or gimmicks to make audiences gasp, no. Nekrošius was removing Shakespearean text and making it speak through the actions of actors and visuals, so you “heard” the text while listening to those drops dripping on Hamlet’s back revealing his “naked” soul.
Of course there were many audience members who couldn’t understand what was going on in front of their eyes. Many of them complained that Nekrošius was way too symbolic and “too cold” because of that symbolism.
The thing is that you really needed to know those plays before going to see his productions. That’s why it became a must to read those classics before going to see how those classics Nekrošius interpreted.
Thankfully, because of the almighty Internet, you all can see a few clips from his productions. There are a few of my all time favorites there. Get familiar with them and I promise you, you will never read another Shakespearean play the way you used to.
Nekrošius is a director of form. He directs a human body on the stage in such a way that the body becomes that medium between the text and the audience. The form and what an actor does is more important for Nekrošius than what an actor says with the text. Nekrošius is very specific about what and how props and sets work in conjunction with a human body. He is very good at finding where to place objects on the stage and finding that certain movement for actors to express the text to the fullest. He marries the form with the text and an actor is that connection.
Nekrošius uses familiar objects to create new meanings for them. He selects what needs to be used with uncanny precision.
Othello used houseplants and pots to create a grave for Desdemona after killing her. Here is that scene:
But my favorite from his “Othello” is a scene where Desdemona is saying goodbye to Othello. Nekrošius chose a prima ballerina, Eglė Špokaitė, to play Desdemona confirming to me that he chooses movement and form over acting and text. Here is that clip which still gives me shivers and goosebumps:
You can catch Nekrošius’s productions around Europe for sure. Here is a link to his theater’s website:
If Nekrošius comes to your town, do yourself a favor, go and see his work, but, of course, read those plays beforehand.
Yes, you might find yourself completely lost during his productions, but believe me, those productions will stick with you for a long time. You might figure them out much later than you thought you would. Be prepared to sit in a chair for three or four hours. It might be long but it will be worth it! Have a drink before hand and you should be fine dissecting all this beauty on the stage.
To say that Nekrošius hasn’t influenced me is the same as saying that I’ve never sang in the shower. Do I sing in the shower? I guess you will never know, unless I get a glass of Port and reveal it to you with gross details sometime later. I am going to leave you with that open, never ending nose. Take your time catching it, but catch it while it is still around!