Herbs of Madness
BASED ON TEXTS BY: YORDAN RADICHKOV
ADAPTED AND DIRECTED BY: MARGARITA MLADENOVA
SET DESIGN: BORIS DALCHEV, MIHAELA DOBREVA
MUSIC: HRISTO NAMLIEV
CASTL ALBENA GEORGIEVA, ZHANA RASHEVA, ANTONIO DIMITRIEVSKI, KATALIN STAREYSHINSKA, IVAN NIKOLOV, NADYA KERANOVA, DIMITAR KRUMOV, RUMEN DRAGANOV, BILYANA GEORGIEVA, GALYA KOSTADINOVA, GEORGI A. BOGDANOV
FROM: THEATRE LABORATORY SFUMATO
MAIN PROGRAM, BULGARIAN SELECTION
DATE ATTENDED: 5 JUNE 2019
What I Saw
Based on a collection of folk stories as written by Yordan Radichov, Herbs of Madness is a clever and lively production in the style of Brecht’s Epic Theatre. Margarita Mladenova certainly has an eye for vivid stage pictures and utilizes the ensemble of energetic performers to weave a series of vignettes that hang like tapestries for the audience’s consumption.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of Theatre Laboratory Sfumato, so the Varna Festival highlighted two of their productions (The New Bible being the other, though I did not manage to see it). The celebrated Bulgarian company deserves all the accolades it has received. With a style that’s surely unique to them, they commit significant time to thoroughly exploring a given author’s work or a kind of theatrical meta-theme - like their years devoted to Chekhov or their current Noah’s Ark series.
The staging was fast-paced and physical, relying on the actors’ bodies and mutable scenic elements to conjure a wide array of different locations. With the barest suggestion of place through a transmutation of the existing mise-en-scene, Mladenova and the ensemble effectively transformed the stage over and over again. The actors were all skilled performers, and the most impressive thing about them was their cohesion; no one performer outshined any other, and it was clear they were a well-rehearsed theatrical family with trust and love for each other member of their troupe.
I sensed, however, that the production presumed some degree of familiarity with the Bulgarian folk tales it explored. As I lack such familiarity, I experienced each vignette more as a painting - contemplating the picture in its entirety as a moving image rather than a narrative construct playing out over time, and I reveled in it. The company’s name - Sfumato - refers to a painting technique concerned with softening the transition between colors (most notably used around the Mona Lisa’s eyes), so I’m wondering if - despite my lack of familiarity with the stories being shared - I happened to receive the work much in the way it was intended.
Harkening to a world of folklore and mysticism that has largely gone extinct, the production resonated as an allegory about climate change and the preciousness of the earth, its people, and their history. In the staging’s most indelible image, pieces of torn plastic sheeting rained from the sky as the actors constructed a quasi-Noah’s Ark from the various scenic elements and boarded their make-shift ship in search of a more hospitable environment. The production reminded me that the tribulations of the human condition are likely older than humans themselves, and despite any suffering or complaining, these tribulations are an integral thread in the fabric of hope and achievement.