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(Ship)wrecked Shakespeare in Romanian Tempests

From: Shakespeare Bulletin
Volume 29, Number 3, Fall 2011
pp. 313-326 | 10.1353/shb.2011.0044

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Post-1989, The Tempest has seen an increase in stage popularity in Romania, with an unprecedented high after the country's accession to the EU, arguably allowing for post-communist (the local brand of post-colonialism?) takes on the play. Like productions of the play elsewhere, Romanian stage Tempests focus on Prospero; their interpretive stances polarize around seeing him as the master—whether magician or tyrant (or both)—and the play as directorial statement, rivaling Hamlet in meta-theatricality.

Whether banished to a desert island, i.e. the Romanian Presidential Palace, as in Nona Ciobanu's 2008 production literally "full of noises" and "instruments" (3.2.135, 137), or staged as sand-box play, as in Cristi Juncu's version, or begun in a narcissistic and over luxuriant theatrical storm as in Cǎtǎlina Buzoianu's, both in 2009, or shipwrecked in a drawing-room, as in Victor Ioan Frunzǎ's 2010 production for four actors and fifteen parts, The Tempest, I argue, has become fertile terrain for exploring the current function of Shakespeare and theatre in Romania, a rapport hardly politics-free in Shakespeare's Romanian history. This paper discusses the rediscovered topicality of Shakespeare through The Tempest by comparing the stage storms in two recent productions of the play: Cristi Juncu's for the "Toma Caragiu" Theatre, Ploieşti and Cǎtǎlina Buzoianu's for the Little Theatre, Bucharest.

Cǎtǎlina Buzoianu has been enjoying national and international fame for decades with over one-hundred experimental productions. She was artistic director of the "Bulandra" Theatre, Bucharest for almost a quarter of a century (1985-2006), has been a Professor at the Institute of Theatre and Cinematography (IATC) since 1975, and dean of the National University of Theatre and Cinematography (UNATC) since 1990. About the time when Buzoianu retired as artistic director of the "Bulandra" (2006), Cristi Juncu was starting his artistic directorship at "Toma Caragiu" Theatre, Ploieşti. One of Buzoianu's (1995) graduates, Juncu had attracted attention with productions, for fringe companies and venues (mainly outside the capital), of an eclectic array of plays (often in his textual adaptations or translations). In 2009, he was cutting his teeth on Shakespeare.

Buzoianu's production was anticipated with great interest. The press presented the production as the director's return to the theatre that launched her career with a play "that one can only understand in old age" and "would think of staging towards the end of one's life" (Gabriela Lupu, Cotidianul, January 23, 2009). Such presentation fed the public's expectation for an autobiographical piece. Though it may have started as a local production in Ploieş ti, by the time it reached the capital, at the annual National Theatre Festival, Juncu's Tempest was making high—print and web—waves.

Grand ideas such as truth, theatre's mission, the ephemerality of performance, freedom, and mortality were Buzoianu's concerns. Her means—a multimedia meditation using Shakespeare as a pretext—were neither new, nor unproblematic. In contrast, Juncu's eye was on the domestic, everyday magic of survival for all inhabitants trapped on the island; his preoccupation was to discover the humanity in all—magician, airy spirits, earth(ly) savage, usurping brother, traitor king, and commoners alike.

Sand-box Tempest or Shakespeare-in-pajamas

"We are such stuff / As dreams are made o[f ], and our little life / Is [sur]rounded with a sleep" (4.1.156-8) were the key lines to both productions. In Juncu's version, they cued the props and costumes: pillows to hand propped Miranda, Alonso, or Gonzalo when succumbing to the island's "good dullness" (1.2.185) and "heavy" sleep (2.1.189). Apart from Prospero and Ariel at the beginning, all characters sported pajamas and night wear. More importantly, these lines informed the acting repertoire. On Juncu's island, characters sleep-walked. Until Prospero's explicit request to Ariel: "Go make thyself like a nymph o'th' sea; / Be subject to no sight but thine and mine" (1.2.302-3), they all ventriloquized the lines Ariel fed to them because he was 'invisible / To every eyeball' (1.2.304), including to Prospero. Moving in dream-like...