By Frédéric Sonntag. Produced by Prešeren Theatre Kranj
Première 13. 12. 2014
Running time 1 hour 50 minutes. No interval.
WHAT I SAW
During pre-show, all actors are onstage, milling about. Stage management, too, along the periphery of the stage, behind the set, seen only in shadow. Three large screens are hung above the stage. The stage is simply adorned with a doorframe, a table, and chairs. The lights change, indicating the beginning of the piece and the cast, a group of 5, stands downstage and addresses the audience, inviting us to ”become George Kaplan.“
What does this mean? We soon find out.
The cast dons masks. They speak to a camera which projects their image on one of the screens via live video screen. They are reading a manifesto. Is this a piece of performance art? A political act? Unclear to us—and, as it turns out, to them as well. One of the characters named George (or, called George, which is what everyone else is called as well) breaks from the recitation and complains about her mask, the concept, and the fact that the script is un-memorized. How had these decisions been made? They voted. She wasn’t present when they voted, so she thinks they should re-examine them.
Thus begins an argument that spins into a series of arguments about the content of the project, the reason for it, the quality of the coffee, the need for beer, whether or not past relationships play in to present treatment, etc. The cameras (there are several, actually) stay trained on the group throughout, their images onscreen from different angles. They seem sometimes aware and sometimes unaware of being filmed.
Through these arguments, we learn the name of the project (“The George Kaplan Project”) and begin to get a sense of its purpose. If successful, the George Kaplan Project will introduce a figure into society that will become pervasive, will incite obsessions, will take on a mythology and life of his own. People all over will start calling themselves George Kaplan, thereby radically disrupting the status quo. I think. The group can’t quite agree whether or not this is the main goal. Regardless, it seems unlikely anything will come to fruition, given their inability to agree on the smallest matters.
One of the Georges has enough and she leaves. We see her exit, and appear on the screen ‘outside’ of the cabin, where she is quickly apprehended by men in SWAT uniforms. The rest of the group is arrested soon after.
Second act. Same cast, different setting, different characters. The costuming suggests a Hollywood writer’s room. The group is working for an unnamed client, who has hired a smartly-dressed woman to run the meetings and collect data. She gives assignments, such as, “come up with a reason a country could go to war other that its people will support.” In each scenario, George Kaplan must be a character. There is a new guy in town, a writer (whom everyone snubs – they all work in film) who shakes things up, offering a chicken-based plot that is less sleek and more strange than all the others. One man’s wife just left him, and all of his stories involve his wife and scenes of mass violence. There are repetitions in the text, elements that cleverly refer to conversations that occurred in the first act. Most notably, the group comes up with a scenario that sounds more or less exactly like the occurrences in the first act. Another scenario, we later learn, foreshadows the third act.
As the act comes to a close, we focus in on the depressed man, who recalls the day his wife leaves him. Following this recollection, he pulls out a gun and shoots everyone in the room. We follow him out of the office on screen, where he shoots several more people in the office, passersby outside, and then himself.
In Act 3, the actors don capes and masks and become a secret sect, the people who really control our government. This happens to be one of the scenarios the writers in the writer’s room came up with in the previous act. This group (performed as caricatures of Hollywood villains, with maniacal laughs and silly facial expressions), has convened to address a threat, named George Kaplan. Is this threat a person? A revolution? A weapon? Unclear. But they decide to let George Kaplan develop in the public psyche and use the developments for their own villainous purposes.
The play ends, but not before we watch a pre-recorded video, wherein the cast, playwright, and creative team talk about the source material. It is based on a true story, we learn, about a man named Robert Steven Webs, or Bob, who was hired just after September 11th to work for a group that operated much like the group in act 2, writing scenarios related to the United States going to war. Said group was asked to use the name George Kaplan in every story. Bob later began investigating this work and what was behind it, and later still, after his wife left him, shot his coworkers and himself. In the final piece of footage, an actor offers a moral – that we need to figure out who is controlling us, who we are slaves to, that everyone lies and we can’t trust anyone.
NUTS AND BOLTS
Cast size: 5 performers (3M, 2F)
Touring Size: Cast of 5, 9 technicians, 7 escorts (21 total).
Minimum height/width/depth of stage: 7m, 8m, 13m
Maximum height/width/depth of stage: 8m, 9m, 14m
Load in time: 8 hours
Strike time: 2 hours
Cartage Information: Company has not provided this information.
Touring History: Nowhere other than the Maribor Theatre Festival
Translation Options: Subtitles in English
Representation: Marinka Poštrak, Artistic Director: firstname.lastname@example.org
Availability: This production will be available for touring until July, 2017.
Director - Jaka Andrej Vojevec
Following his BA in English and Comparative Literature, Vojevec studied Theatre Directing at the Academy of Theatre, Radio, Film and Television, University of Ljubljana, where he often performed as a dancer and actor in addition to his studies. Vojevec launched his directorial career in 2008 with the production of Dušan Jovanović’s play The Life of Provincial Playboys after WWII or We Want None of Yours – We Give None of Ours! in Mala Drama. The production was received the Gracious Comedy Award for the best comedy performance at the Celje Days of Comedy. Now he works primarily at Glej Theatre, but he works regularly in all the major Slovenian theatres as well.
Playwright - Frédéric Sonntag
Born in 1978, Sonntag is a playwright and director. He has written a dozen plays for which he was awarded grants from the Centre National du Livre, l’Association Beaumarchais-SACD, as well as production grants from the Centre National du Théâtre. He has staged them at numerous theatres and festivals throughout France. His works experiment with diverse narrative forms, focusing on such subjects as the relationship between reality and fiction, the building and dissolving of identities or contemporary fears. Several of his plays have been published in the Tapuscrit-Théâtre Ouvert collection, by Avant-Scène Théâtre and Editions Théâtrales. Since 2009, Frédéric Sonntag has participated in several international events devoted to contemporary playwriting. His plays have also been translated into a number of languages: English, German, Spanish (Chile, Argentina), Bulgarian, Catalan, Portuguese, Czech, Finnish, Greek, Serbian, Slovenian, Danish, Italian and Russian, and have been performed in several countries.
THEATRE: Prešeren Theatre Kranj
The Prešeren Theatre Kranj was established as a professional theatre in 1950. It is one of the smallest professional theatres in Slovenia, with a complete cast of only 10 actors. Prešeren Theatre is a repertory theatre which stages around 4 premières per season, which are often awarded at Slovene theatre festivals. Since 1970 the theatre has organised the annual WEEK OF SLOVENIAN DRAMA, a showcase of the most successful performances based on a Slovene play or text and staged in the last season by Slovene theatres.
During the first years of Prešeren Theatre's existence, it became known for experimental stagings, the introduction of modernist dramaturgical elements, and the first stagings of a number of drama texts, especially from the Anglo-Saxon area. The first Slovene staging of a text by Jean-Paul Sartre took place precisely in Prešeren Theatre Kranj, in December 1954. In the late 1950s, the political climate in Slovenia was not favourably disposed toward the theatre, which resulted in the theatre's suspension in the season 1957/58 and one of the biggest cultural scandals in the time of the communist regime in Slovenia. The theatre continued with its production as an amateur theatre until 1989. During this period, in 1971, it organised for the first time an overview of the stagings of Slovene dramatic texts, the now already firmly established annual festival – WEEK OF SLOVENIAN DRAMA, which proved to be of extreme importance for the artistic renown of the theatre and the subsequent professionalization of the theatre in 1989.
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WRITINGS AND REVIEWS
From Prešeren Theatre Kranj, the Producing Theatre Company
George Kaplan is a story from the background of our everyday life; a story about the manipulation and surveillance that we may not have experienced but have already seen on TV or in the society. Sonntag’s thematic research of modern-day fears is also reinforced on the formal-structural level as the author writes his characters in a particularly vivid and local language spiced with philosophical, almost ideological paragraphs and intelligent humour. He builds the dramatic structure out of reality intrusions (through the video), doubling the reality and using many references from the film, pop culture, past and recent history. Thus the genre definition of the text as a spy comedy suddenly loses the appearance of an unusual gesture: Sonntag has spread throughout the text hints and references that repeatedly unravel new worlds, ultimately bringing us to the question: Who is manipulating us and to what extent? And last but not least: What is true after all?
REFLECTIONS BY KELLIE
At its best, the play is like a fun house, with trick mirrors that keep you questioning where you are and what is happening. This is achieved most successfully in the first act, and most interestingly, because the reason for the confusion is the groups’ inability to agree on what they are doing. What is missing from this first act is pathos: what we are witnessing is a break-up of sorts, and that break up is not at all felt. As the play progresses, the text makes it increasingly harder to mine pathos from it – characters are 2 dimensional at best, and the situations are not interesting enough to hold our attention without this. The plot actually seems to become more and more simple, more and more moralizing, and less and less compelling.
Similarly, performances get more broad as the play progresses, so that by the third act, the villains are poor imitations of villains – badly drawn caricatures. The live video feed felt uninterestingly used, the shots poorly framed, to no end other than to offer the sense that all characters were being controlled by outside forces. The final video add-on, which took a very specific stance on Bob’s tale (namely that he was at the center of a major conspiracy, and his suicide was instigated, potentially very intentionally, by those in power), forced a moral on a play that could have felt more complicated, and suggested that the creators had very little trust that its audience could reach its own conclusions. Ultimately, the play was flawed, and the production enhanced rather than solved its problems.