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Theatre Journal 53.3 (2001) 490-491
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Pad/The Fall. By Biljana Srbljanovic. Bitef Teatar, Belgrade, Yugoslavia. 27 December 2000.
In the recent media coverage of the arrest of the former president of Serbia and Yugoslavia Slobodan Milosevic, his Belgrade villa with its white walls, tall fenced gates, and armed bodyguards figured prominently as the ex-strongman's last retreat before the fall. The set for Pad/The Fall,Biljana Srbljanovic's play at Belgrade's Bitef Teatar, took us on a special tour inside Milosevic's fortress. Director and set designer Gorcin Stojanovic; placed the characters of the play in a space with high walls and tiny windows. The floor and walls were shiny, implying both a luxurious kitsch and the police state's institutions (such as hospital, prison, caserne, court, and television studio). The part of the wall closest to the floor was carpeted with fur and lined with a set of urinals. There were also showers, some stools, and an all-purpose table serving as a throne, bed, toilet seat, etc. People and objects were occasionally flown in or out of this space, indicating that the only way out was through an invisible ceiling.
Srbljanovic's Pad is an allegory, making it possible to interpret the location as the interior of Milosevic's villa-tomb. The play's metaphors made me believe that this is a story of Milosevic's rise and fall. At the center of the play, however, is Suncana/Sunshine, "the Übermother of the nation," who gives life to her people and institutions (state, army, church, media, prison) but also brings it to a dead-end. In twelve scenes, Suncana and her minions (her bastard son; her husband, given the role of the leader/Überstepfather of the nation; her brother's widow; and the two "chameleons of the nation" impersonating artists, intellectuals, generals and religious leaders) deliver the grand plans for the expansion and bright future of the country--the bloody wars, inflation, isolation, death, and destruction. The play is a journey of the Serbian (or any other) nation's fall into fascism, into a homogenous state with one voice, one face, and one breathing rhythm. Suncana, like the rest of Pad's participants, is not a character but rather a figure representing human archetypes, historical ideas, and/or social forces. She may be read as the Serbian nation, her husband as an emasculated leader thrown into the sea of history before receiving one swimming lesson, her two ideologues as [End Page 490] spineless opportunists, and her son as the victim of an arrested development imposed on him by history and family ties. Only her sister-in-law, thirty-year-old Vera/Faith stands as a foil, as a vulnerable, female body and an emotional, lonely voice opposed to the homogeneity. Vera is, however, without a support system: she stands in a vacuum; she screams in a culture enraptured with its glorious past, male warriors, and patriarchal values. This is a picture of a nation without heroes and role models. The fall is all-inclusive; the whole nation goes under.
Pad is only the third play by thirty-one year old Srbljanovic, the celebrated young woman of the Yugoslav/Serbian drama. Compared in aesthetic and dramaturgical terms to her previous play, Family Stories: Belgrade, this text seems a step backwards; some local critics dismissed it as a political pamphlet. Family Stories: Belgrade's intricate interplay of realism and theatricalism, naturalism and absurdism, and its complex construction of characters as interchangeable roles in constant flux, represented a powerful theatrical game and radical political theatre. Pad, however, with its linear and too neatly constructed dissection of fascism among the Serbs, provides a simplification of complex ideas. Paradoxically, Family Stories: Belgrade's local political culture might resonate much stronger within the global theatre's climate, while Pad's global/metaphorical depiction of fascism may communicate mainly locally.
Pad's saving grace, apart from its bitter humor, precise direction by Stojanovic, inspired costumes by Jelisaveta Tatic, and excellent cast (Mirjana Karanovic, Boris Isakovic, Boris Komnenic, Mladen Andrejevic, Jasna Djuricic...