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Jesters and Executioners: The Future of East European Theater and Drama E. J. Czerwinski The Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia affected the literary and cultural affairs in all the countries of East Europe. Shortly after August, 1968, a definite profile, especially in the theater, began to take shape. Dialog, the Polish theatre monthly, lost its editor, Adam Tam, and the Theater of the Absurd, together with experimentation in theater and drama, ceased to exist in Poland. Censorship, dormant or almost dead since the mid-fifties, began to appear in Yugoslavia, especially in Belgrade, Ljubljana, and Zagreb. In the Soviet Union writers such as Rozov and Arbuzov, who had for the past ten years flirted with experi­ mentation in their dramas, have, in their latest works, adhered to standard themes—unrequited love, sacrifice of the male’s ego, criticism of past mistakes in the light of today’s optimism, and old war stories. Producers, directors and writers in Hungary and Romania have managed to avoid controversy in the hope that the slight gains made in the past five years will not be sud­ denly nullified. As for the theaters in Czechoslovakia political comment has been silenced since September, 1969. There is little doubt that the invasion precipitated the above changes in East European theatres. But one must not be too quick to place the blame wholly on the Soviet Union and The Warsaw Pact Nations. Nothing ever happens “just so” in East Europe. The situation in Poland was brought about as much by the persecution of “Zionists” as by the invasion. Undoubtedly, both these events were tied in with Czechoslovakia’s determina­ tion to give Socialism a human face, which in itself was a reac­ tion to the Stalinist tactics of the Novotny era. As for Yugo­ slavia, the Soviet invasion and the Brezhnev Doctrine ironic207 208 Comparative Drama ally helped divert public criticism of economic problems that were then plaguing Yugoslavia. Regardless of the reasons, cen­ sorship has already been imposed in Yugoslavia, the former bastion of freedom in the arts, and no one (at least not among the 500 intellectuals who participated in the two forums in Bel­ grade, called to discuss the state of the arts) is willing to predict how far the censor will go to silence criticism and precisely what ideas and themes are subject to censorship. The purpose of this study is to compare various themes that have emerged in plays written since August, 1968, with those that existed prior to the invasion and to forecast the future of theater and drama in East Europe. I When the history of Czech and Slovak drama and theater will be written at some future date, the period dating from 1968 will be extremely difficult to evaluate if tapes of performances are not taken into account. For it is no secret to anyone that texts of plays have been rewritten, expurgated, and injected with satirical elements that comment on political events since August, 1968. Kat a blazen (The Executioner and the Jester) written by Jiff Voskovec and Jan Werich in 1934 was resurrected as some­ thing of a popular anti-occupation piece. The Jester symbolized the Czech nation; the Executioner—the occupiers, especially the Russians. Similar to the Jester-Priest metaphor in Polish literature since 1959, the Jester-Executioner metaphor was injected into almost every play (and even musical, e.g., Pan Alcron vdava dceru [Mr. Alcron Marries Off His Daughter] at the Karlin Music Theater in Prague) that was produced in Czechoslovakia after August, 1968. A great deal of material was incorporated into and stage-business improvised in plays which were in rep­ ertory prior to that time. But unlike the Polish use of the JesterPriest metaphor, the Czechs chose to make the Jester-Execu­ tioner metaphor a form of civil protest in the arts. The metaphor was not thematically developed as in many of the Polish plays, but often simply interjected as a comment in the original text. Used in such a way, it was never a part of the actual theme. In fact the worth and value of a performance up to Septem­ ber 1, 1969 (the date when strict censorship was introduced E. J. Czerwinski...


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pp. 207-225
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