An Attempt at Flying
BY: YORDAN RADICHKOV
DIRECTED BY: STOYAN RADEV
STAGE DESIGN: VENELIN SHURELOV
COSTUME DESIGN: ELITSA GEORGIEVA
MUSIC: TEODOSIY SPASOV
CAST: BLAGOVEST BLAGOEV, VALENTIN TANEV, VALERI YORDANOV, GEORGI MAMALEV, DARIN ANGELOV, DEYAN ANGELOV, ZAFIR RADZHAV, YOSIF SHAMLI, MARIN YANEV, MARIA KAVARDZHIKOVA, NIKOLAY URUMOV, PAVLIN PETRUNOV, HRISTO PETKOV
FROM “IVAN VAZOV” NATIONAL THEATRE
MAIN PROGRAM, BULGARIAN SELECTION
DATE ATTENDED: 1 JUNE 2019
What I Saw
The festival commenced with “An Attempt to Fly,” by Yordan Radichkov, directed by Stoyan Radev. The play opens with 2 drunkards: one passed out on the lip of the stage and the other admiring a hardboiled egg - as if they’re the Bulgarian versions of Frank Reynolds and Charlie Kelly from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Obviously, I was immediately drawn to this image and the man with the egg; he was really admiring that egg, and I admired him for it.
From these opening moments, however, my comprehension of the stage action dwindled (though through discussion and research after the show, I learned my perceptions were more or less consistent with the stage action, which speaks to the formidable gifts of director Stoyan Radev and the coterie of actors). From what I gathered, a hot air balloon crashed in the Bulgarian countryside during World War II. Several groups fought to locate the balloon first, seeing it as a literal escape from the encroaching war front (or, metaphorically, from communism). Upon finding it, the various groups somehow manage to unite in their pursuit of flight, board the balloon, and get it into the air. After getting lost in the sky, they fly over the war front and get shot down, only to realize they are still in Bulgaria when a government official comes upon the crash site and dashes their dreams of escape.
I’m assuming this was a compelling and relevant work for the Bulgarian audience (and I was told as much after the performance), but the show was a dialogue-heavy production in Bulgarian without subtitles, so much of it was lost on me. Though I was regularly lulled into twilight by the wonderful musicality of the Bulgarian language, I was also jolted awake by actors’ ebullient shouts and the audience’s concomitant laughter, and I thusly strived to remain awake to soak in the visuals.
Though performed energetically and with resolute commitment by an impressive troupe of actors, the highlight of this performance was undoubtedly the scenography. The production won an Ikar award in 2019 for technical accomplishment, and it was well deserved. Designed by Venelin Shurelov (with whom I worked in 2016 and is one of the rare individuals working today who may actually deserve the title of Master-of-His-Craft), the set is anchored by a large metal half-dome - simultaneously evoking the top third of a hot air balloon, a bucolic hillside, and a war machine. The direction smartly utilized this from all angles to conjure different landscapes. Various swings and contraptions descended from the rafters in a glorious abstraction of a hot air balloon, and the 11 performers mounted them; throughout the sequences of flight, the actors were all elevated a meter or more off the ground in an impressive display of technical achievement.
Written in the 1970s when Bulgaria was still under a communist regime and its people could not leave the country without government permission, the play’s metaphorical content (the balloon as an escape, as a manifestation of dreams of a different life, etcetera) seemed almost too obvious for the censors at the time, though perhaps the metaphor is now shouted as loud as it can be to remind the audience of a time in which such metaphors had to be relayed via coded language and subtle gestures.
When meditating on the metaphors of the play, the escapism of dreams and the escapism of flight announced themselves too loudly to effectively serve as potent metaphors. Instead, I return to the opening image of the drunkard appreciating the majesty of a hardboiled egg. The egg offers the promise of growth, of continuity, of fertility, of future generations. Much like the government official dashing the dreams of the play’s gaggle of hopefuls, so too is the egg denied its aspirations of transcendence upon being hard-boiled - whereupon its journey continues into a drunkard’s stomach, soaking up vodka and energizing his hopes and dreams before ultimately escaping to the bottom of a latrine - like the drunkard, his crew, and their dreams.