- András Visky’s Barrack Dramaturgy: Memories of the Body ed. by Jozefina Komporaly
András Visky’s Barrack Dramaturgy: Memories of the Body, edited by Jozefina Komporaly, is the first English-language anthology of the Hungarian-Romanian playwright, dramaturg, theatre aesthete, and Artistic Director of the Hungarian Theatre of Cluj. The three performance texts included in the volume, Juliet: A Dialogue about Love (2002), I Killed My Mother (2006), and Porn (2009), are all reflections of Visky’s complex national and cultural background and historical experiences: growing up in an ethnically minoritarian and politically persecuted family under the oppression of the totalitarian communist state of Romania. A wide variety of essays accompany the three plays: the introductory texts, both to the book and to each of the plays, written by Eastern European theatre scholars Jozefina Komporaly and Ileana Alexandra Orlich, as well as directors Karin Coonrod, Jeremy D. Knapp, and András Visky himself; and related interviews, production histories, and photographs attached to each script. These provide an impressively detailed and insightful description of the complex, and to most readers unfamiliar, sociopolitical context of the plays and offer a comprehensive overview of the local and regional theatrical histories and legacies.
The trauma of humiliation, repression, and confinement, Visky’s most defining “memories of the body,” inform both the form and the content of his works. In his theatre of memory, the closed, intimate space, which locks the performers and the audiences in together, evokes the experience of captivity, in the broadest interpretation of the word, as Komporaly describes, quoting Visky: “‘captivity is a state of being in which we are dislocated from our bodies,’ and through which we are invited to explore the potential participatory understanding” (13). Visky names his aesthetics “Barrack Dramaturgy,” and proposes that the shared, embodied experience, the heightened “perception of the performance as an event in the present” allows participants, performers, and members of the audience alike to access and (re)experience the past and bring to the present the repressed memories of both the individual and the social body (13). Visky’s conceptualization of the “memory of the body” does not explicitly build on Jerzy Grotowski’s “body-memory” or Tadeusz Kantor’s “theatre of memory-image,” at least in the excerpts included in this volume, although Komporaly, in her introduction, emphasizes the evident connection among these Eastern European theatrical traditions. Visky relates the memories of the body to the trauma of losing one’s freedom or the experience of a lack of freedom, both of which “alienate us from [End Page 182] our own body” (28). In Barrack Dramaturgy, however, “[l]anguage comes into being as a material of the body”; it “regains its meanings” by retrieving the memories of the body (28). In other words, Barrack Dramaturgy allows the participants, both performers and audience members, to access the repressed body memories of historical traumas, which they can then verbalize, narrate, and put into discourse. The visceral confrontation of the traumatic past in this intimate though enclosed space “finishes with an equally shared exit or liberation,” Komporaly argues optimistically, that is “also symbolic of an act of doing justice” (13).
Each play included in the anthology is inspired by real life events and evokes a dramatic setting that, literally or metaphorically, is characterized by confinement. Further, while Visky writes in a distinctive, fragmentary style with “compulsive repetitions,” prolonged silences, and “circular monologues” (xvi) that defy realistic representation and interpretation, each play has an underlying narrative arc that the audience members can piece together as the performance progresses. Juliet: A Dialogue about Love is based on the playwright’s own early childhood experiences: after his father, a minister of a protestant church, was sentenced to 22 years of forced labor for allegedly plotting against the communist regime, his mother along with her seven children —András being the youngest — were also deported to a Romanian gulag. The text of Juliet is based on the mother’s death throes after contracting angina pectoris in the camp. The...