All images by Ctibor Bachratý
Andrej Bagar Theatre in Nitra, SLOVAKIA
Direction: Ján Luterán
Translation: Pavel Vilikovský
Costumes: Eva Kleinová
Dramaturgy: Miro Dacho
Set design: Michal Lošonský
Music: Ján Kružliak ml.
Light design: Ján Ptačin
Adaptation: Miro Dacho, Ján Luterán
Characters and cast:
Yossarian: Daniel Ratimorský, Chaplain, Patient´s brother: Marián Viskup, Milo Minderbinder, Military Cop: Peter Oszlík, Lieutenant colonel Korn, Clevinger: Martin Fratrič, Colonel Cathcart: Branislav Matuščin, Major Major, Captain Black: Juraj Ďuriš, Doctor Danneka, Man from Security: Martin Nahálka, Nately, Snowden: Andrej Remeník, Sergeant Towser, Hafi: Tomáš Stopa, McWatt, Doctor Sanderson: Tomáš Turek, Daneek´s Wife, Luciana, Nately´s Bitch: Barbora Andrešičová, Dannek´s Mother-in-low, Nurse Duckett, Patient´s Mother: Lenka Barilíková
What I Saw
A hometown offering from our hosts, Andrej Bajar Theatre in Nitra, is Joseph’s Heller’s adaptation of his novel of the same name Catch-22, translated by Pavel Vilikovský and directed by Ján Luterán, a young director who has studied with Anne Bogart.
Games and play drive the spirit of the production; chess pieces hang from the ceiling, guns are colorful plastic tubes, and Colonel Cathcart plays dress up in an American Indian headdress. The Andrej Bagar’s young ensemble matches the design aesthetic by infusing the play with a frenetic, child-like energy. The exception is non-ensemble member Daniel Ratimorský as the protagonist Yossarian, who has been directed to play it straight, though his addressing the audience from a mic stand like a stand-up comedian contributes to the overarching sense of play and performance.
Though the connections to political corruption and irresponsibility are clear, the “Catch-22” paradigm can be interpreted on a more personal level as well. Characters have relationships that are shallow, performative and insincere, or are viewed as such – Yossarian proposes to an Italian woman who thinks that he is crazy to want to marry her and he is only let out of the army if he agrees to “like” and befriend his commanding officers. This lack of trust, authenticity, and safety felt incredibly resonant in a contemporary world of virtual connection, social media, and fake news.
Staged in the round in the Andrej Bagar’s studio space, the production unfolds in front of us, around us, and above us, lending a feeling of entrapment to not only the performers but the audience. When Yossarian is released the doors of the theatre open to the lobby, allowing in much needed air. He runs out only to be chased back into the house. There is no escape from bureaucracy and corruption.
The Andrej Bagar Theatre programmed the play to align with their season theme, “Men without Borders.” Director Luterán proposed it for its predominantly male ensemble, which would make good use of the young members of the Andrej Bagar company. The Slovak translation of the play has only been performed once before, in the country’s capital Bratislava in the 1980s. Luterán wanted “outsider” Ratimorský to portray Yossarian, describing the actor “as very matter of fact and deliberate in life and in his acting” and “not from the same mold” as the young and more emotionally driven Nitra cast.
Though this is a faithful adaptation, the creative team took some liberties to connect it more directly to the current political situation in Slovakia. In a departure from the text Colonel Cathcart was modeled after Speaker of the National Parliament, Andrej Danko, who is notorious for his articulation difficulties, fondness for the army and receiving military honors, and abuses of power. Luterán decided to focus on the games and play motif in the design rather than war and military because his actors could connect to the former more, having no military experience themselves. Instead, the military is present in the music of the play – drums, pipes, marches – but played on instruments that look like toys.
The production more generally addresses the everyday absurdities and bizarre occurrences we experience as citizens of the state and the impact of the bureaucratic machine. In this production the war is being waged on the incompetent in power. By staging the play in the empty studio, the design feeds the central metaphor of Catch 22 – a vicious circle that is difficult to exit, like a bureaucratic body.
This innovative staging and design, the piece’s obvious connection to the festival’s theme, and its timely explorations of bureaucracy, political ethics, responsibility, and the distribution of power are what compelled Slovak program curator Júlia Rázusová to program it. According to Rázusová , the polarization present in the play feels very resonant in Slovokia right now as well.
Nevertheless, despite the play’s timeliness towards the current political situation (which does not feel unique to Slovakia), some audience members in the post-show discussion with Luterán and dramaturg Miro Dacho questioned producing a play with such outdated and stereotypical roles for women.
Dacho and Lutrán countered that these depictions of women as one dimensional sex objects are embedded in the text and original novel, not to mention that, with the exception of Yossarian, all of the characters are broad stereotypes. According to Dacho they deliberately did not approach the adaptation from a 2019 perspective. To not do Heller as Heller, he argued, would mean not doing the play at all.
These questions were asked by the members of the V4@Theatre Critics Residency, a group of age thirty-five and younger theatre critics from across Central and Eastern Europe, whose goal is “to develop critical reflection on theatre, to map new tendencies in contemporary production in the field of scenic arts and to introduce analytical methods that serve reflection on often highly specific and experimental artworks.” The conversation reflects similar questions around representation that artists, producers, and critics are asking in the United States - who tells the story, who is the story about, and does it need to be told in the first place?
About the Artist
Ján Luterán (1984)
graduated in theatre directing from the Academy of Performing Arts in Bratislava. During his Erasmus programme in Prague, he completed the Viewpoints acting course under American director Anne Bogart. Luterán focuses on contemporary original drama. His graduation project There Was Once a Class (2010; first Academy of Performing Arts, later Andrej Bagar Theatre in Nitra) roused the attention of audiences and the professional community. Renowned Slovak theatre critic and historian Vladimír Štefko honoured this production with the title ‘Commedie dell’scholarum’ for intelligent satire. Luterán has worked with a number of Slovak theatres (Andrej Bagar Theatre in Nitra, Slovak Chambre Theatre in Marting, Žilina City Theatre, Jonáš Záborský Theatre in Prešov). His productions regularly appear at Czech and Slovak theatre festivals; at Divadelná Nitra, he has staged Europeana (2014) and The Great Notebook (2015). In 2010, he earned the Grand Prix from the festival Nová dráma/New Drama for his student play project.wedding; in 2013, he received the Special Jury Prize from Nová dráma/New Drama for his production Jánošík 007.