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  • Staging Postcommunism: Alternative Theatre in Eastern and Central Europe After 1989 ed. by Vessela S. Warner and Diana Manole
  • Ileana Alexandra Orlich
STAGING POSTCOMMUNISM: ALTERNATIVE THEATRE IN EASTERN AND CENTRAL EUROPE AFTER 1989. Edited by Vessela S. Warner and Diana Manole. Studies in Theatre History and Culture series. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2020; pp. 298.

Staging Postcommunism: Alternative Theatre in Eastern and Central Europe after 1989 is a two-part collection of essays that offers a rewarding journey into a region not routinely discussed, whose chartered spaces reclaim civic empowerment and whose messages, encrypted in anti-regime performances, showcase an overdue cultural reclamation through the stage world. The first part, “Re/Inventing Alternative Theatre after the Fall of Communism,” incorporates an extraordinary range of alternative approaches to traditional performance and forms of cultural resistance from Hungary, Estonia, Latvia, the Republic of Moldova, Russia, and Serbia by exploring their theatre-making as an alternative socio-political agency in the post-Soviet world. The second part, “Postcommunist Aesthetics and Performance Dissent,” examines alternative theatre companies in Bulgaria, Russia, Czech Republic, Slovenia, and Belarus to identify the means by which such theatrical events as operatic performances, street productions, and even the retooling of public transportation spaces recontextualize politics.

Showcasing communist “countertheatres” in Hungary, Andrea Tompa reveals the traumatic history and politics of a region usually left outside the framework of postcommunist studies. She estimates that by 2018, Hungary was home to more than a hundred experimental theatre groups that continue to challenge Hungary’s conservative politics and nationalism. The next two chapters highlight the Estonian post-Soviet theatre. Jaak Rāhesoo investigates a post-alternative theatre “represented by forty-seven permanent and project-based temporary companies” (17), and Luule Epner locates the crystallization of these groundbreaking approaches in the work of Theatre NO99. Rāhesoo scrutinizes the VAT and Von Krahl theatres, bringing into focus “independent and freelance projects” (25) like modernized versions of classics (Gilgamesh or the Button of Eternity [2011]) and lecture series (Is There Life after Capitalism? [2008]). Epner centers on Theatre NO99’s provocative “social experimentalism” (29) staged in open and nonnarrative productions that foster synergies with aspects of contemporary art (NO83 How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare [2009]), demographic crisis (NO88 Hot Estonian Guys [2007]), or the Stalinist era and current political corruption (NO72 The Rise and Fall of Estonia [2011]). (The unusual name, NO99, alludes to the countdown of performances, with the first at 99 and the last at NO1, when the theatre will cease to exist.)

In “Search for Alternatives in the Latvian Theatre, 1991–2004,” director Baņuta Rubess discusses her confrontations with the traditional Latvian attitude favoring a “tyrannical” directorial style (54) and highlights the transformative power of alternative approaches to a theatre thwarted by convention and nationalism. By contrast, as Angelina Roșca points out, the Republic of Moldova’s artists struggle to uncover the traumatic Russification of the Soviet period. The Moldovan theatre, she argues, assumes “the role of an artistic manifesto” underscoring the Soviet distortion of the country’s national Romanian lexicon and Latin alphabet (64), as in a 1989 production of Beckett’s Waiting for Godot in which Vladimir and Estragon draw Latin letters in the air. In the highly strung political arena, the older generation of Moldavians cheering their country’s struggle to distance itself from Kremlin-dictated communism may be taken aback to discover that Moldovan documentary theatre braids artistic and political conscience by giving voice to the younger generations raised in Moldova’s systemic communism only to be equally disenchanted with the “shallow promises of capitalism” (74).

John Freedman’s exploration of the Russian alternative theatre centers on the street performances of Teatr.doc, whose critique of the political scene has been imitated by traditional theatres such as the Mayakovsky Theatre. Teatr.doc’s adaption of Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People (2013), which reflects on Putin’s political rival Alexei Navalny, is a dramatic foreshadowing of a horrific incident that currently captivates international attention. Next, Dennis Barnett reaffirms the impact of an alternative theatre by revealing the effectiveness of the DAH Theatre in “decontaminating Serbian culture”—an overt allusion...


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pp. 267-268
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