- Crazy World
The Insane of Valencia differs from many of Lope de Vega’s most well-known comedies that deal with the power of love (for example, The Idiot Lady). In terms of theme and structure, it is closer to The Dog in the Manger; its use of parody and burlesque satirizes a society preoccupied with hollow notions of class and behavior. The Insane of Valencia is set in a lunatic asylum, where the inmates assume and cast off various roles as they act out a series of dramatic performances for their own benefit.
Using both a translation by Adalet Cimcoz and quasi-Brechtian staging techniques, director Barış Erdenk updated the play in an attempt to explain the economic crisis that dominates the headlines in contemporary Turkey, despite Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s insistence that the country has at last “turned the corner.” In Erdenk’s view, the crisis had two principal causes: mistrust of foreign investment, and corrupt politicians. The first of these was clearly apparent in a comic set piece, in which one (unnamed) cast member impersonated a Japanese entrepreneur vainly trying to communicate with prospective Turkish clients. In spite of his gestures of politeness—inclining his head, smiling, or standing to attention like a soldier—no one seemed either willing or able to engage with him. Eventually, he was bundled unceremoniously offstage by two police officers. The scene had some good-natured fun at the expense of the Japanese, who were identified in a program note as representatives of the kind of global capitalism that caused the crisis in the first place. Erdenk also indicated that while the business community had plenty of opportunity to improve the economic situation—through trade agreements, for example—its underlying suspicion of foreigners impeded the success of such initiatives.
The consequences of this lack of cross-cultural empathy were emphasized in a dumb-show sequence (repeated throughout the production), in which several actors dressed in rags shuffled across the stage. They were the new underclass: traders who had nothing to sell, shop owners forced to leave their premises, and migrants who had traveled from the east to the big cities (Ankara, Istanbul) in the west in search of work, but found nothing available. Nothing—not even hope—could sustain them now; their hopeless expressions suggested that all they had to look forward to now was a painful half-life in poverty.
In Erdenk’s production, politicians were clearly to blame for this crisis. This was suggested through quasi-Brechtian techniques; for example, by having the actors periodically step out of their roles, turn toward the audience, and comment on what they had just performed. They accused several ministers of siphoning off public funds into their bank accounts, while claiming in their public utterances that they were working in the public interest. One actor stressed that such hypocrisy is not just characteristic of Turkish politicians; recent media revelations show [End Page 105] that similar practices exist the world over. What happens in contemporary Turkey is a microcosm of the situation in other countries, whether in the West or elsewhere.
Click for larger view
View full resolution
To strengthen the production’s sociopolitical purpose, Erdenk deliberately discouraged audience identification with the characters onstage. This was evident on several occasions, when the actors interrupted the performance to deliver long, mock-Petrarchan speeches in praise of courtly love, laced with lyrical metaphors and aphoristic reflections. There seemed no particular reason for them to do this other than showing off. The same also applied to the musicians, who sat just to the right of the stage playing a variety of tunes: Spanish dances, Turkish folksongs, and satirical poems delivered in Sprechstimme (“speech-voice,” or a melody spoken at an approximate pitch, not sung). They began to play at inopportune moments—during the middle of a dramatic speech, for example—in a brazen attempt to solicit our attention. Although this strategy irritated...