All images by Juraj Zmatek
Love You and Take Care
by NUDE Theatre
Directed by Veronika Malgot and Lýdia Ondrušová
Design by Laura Štorcelová
(NUDE Theatre, Bratislava)
Premiere: 11 June 2018
Date I saw This Show: 4 May 2019
What I Saw
The original production of Love you and Take Care took place in an apartment in Bratislava. The Nova Drama performance took place in a three-story shared workspace in northeast Bratislava, much more of a home than a theatre space. We were welcomed in by four women (cast members Lenka Libjaková, Lýdia Ondrušová, Mirka Ábelová, and Livuša Bachratá) dressed by Laura Štorcelová in the soldier’s uniform of motherhood: sweatpants and an undershirt. These four women tied a small piece of red thread around each audience member’s wrist. Audience members stood in the large living room until the actors are called to attention with a “Stand straight, two lines, eyes front!”
Lining up these four women share snapshots of their journeys from girls to women via menstruation, sex, and breasts.
1: I got my first period in PE class. They sent me home.
2: I on Three Kings Day.
3: I also on Three Kings Day and two years later, I had my first sex on Three Kings Day.
4: I had my first sex on Valentines Day, I was fourteen or fifteen. Two days later my boyfriend broke up with me because I wasn't good in bed.
1: My boyfriend broke up with me too, after two weeks. He realized as he turned fifteen that he stopped loving me.
2: I was really afraid it would hurt.
3: I was afraid of God.
4: I was afraid of my parents, mom and dad, that they'd find out.
Then as the focus changed to motherhood, we were directed to one end of the main floor where Mirka Ábelová delivers her monologue from a plain chair in the middle of a red rug. She reads from her writings, which chronicle her journey of working to get pregnant from pre-conception through the reality of being a new mother, it begins with a series of names and then:
MIRKA: They say I shouldn't think about it
so I don't
and I say
good that I'm still sane
This image seems to be a theme that runs through this work: the madness that comes from nurturing new life and the lack of understanding in the world for what a unique, exhausting, and frustrating journey it can be. This piece’s heightened poetry pulls in many aspects of parenthood from social media, Waldorf and Montessori schools, and lands in an honest, yet cynical place:
MIRKA: During one ordinary Sunday afternoon
when little children make parents
write sentimental texts
full of pathetic love
and annoying fresh mothers
post on Facebook
every day about the indefinite feeling of Sunday
With this perspective about motherhood ringing in our ears, the sound of music and drumming then pulls our attention around a corner to another part of the main floor of the house.
Cardboard boxes are stacked on one end of the room while on the other Gab, a musician and collaborator on the production (the company is passionate about being woman-centric, but also includes a male perspective in each performance). Gab plays a variety of organic instruments and mixing boards. Lenka Libjaková begins telling the story of running away from responsibility only to find herself in a new relationship with an old friend:
LENKA: I booked a flight to Jakarta to see my friend Gab and I went. He could climb a really high palm tree and shave coconuts with a machete, we drove on his fast black motorcycle during nights. Jesus, once I was so drunk he had to tie me in a scarf around his body, so that I didn't fall. He had a cool style, we surfed, drank, made a lot of theater, traveled, came late and missed flights and we flew.
With five different tests I find out that I am pregnant. It's on the day of Gab's grandma's birthday. I think she chose me and enchanted me – she prayed a lot, kissed my forehead and then she gave me a fresh mango and a traditional scarf. I'm picking him up at the airport. Gab is meeting a completely new person at Vienna Airport, he's meeting a woman, future mother.
The cardboard boxes become literal and metaphorical boundaries in the couple’s life as their relationship must face the honesty that parenting requires. As Gab’s life turns more toward music and Lenka’s toward work, Lenka wrestles with this distance and while we may hope for a happy reconciliation, the piece ends on an apologetic note: Sorry.
The third monologue written, by Veronika Malgot and performed by Livuša Bachratá, is set upstairs in a room where a woman was occupied with tiles on the floor and an exercise bike. The piece begins with a statistical assessment of Veronika’s medical history through the birthing process. Focused on numbers and mathematics, Verionika is wracked with loneliness and madness after the birth of her child. As she wrestles with this, her obsessions manifest in mathematics formulas scrawled on the bottom of the tiles and a PowerPoint presentation about the number of minutes spent breastfeeding (35,000 minutes). The actor then wraps herself in cling wrap, trapping herself and then working out on the bike as if trying to escape the invisible pressure closing in from all sides. In the end, the struggle cannot be overcome by numbers and statistics, but by understanding:
VERONIKA: A year and a half after
In ten days Jarmilka will be a year and a half
Since the moment I realized it was postpartum depression, what was happening to me, I felt better. Suddenly I saw who I was and who I wasn't. I found boundaries. I could name it. Tell everybody. And start writing a blog. And I could stop being angry. And I could be just sad. That nobody realized it. That I didn't realize it. Happiness found me. I can go to the sea.
A hostess comes to the top of the stairs with a tray filled with vodka and small, neat cakes to lead us to the lowest level of the home, a comfortable living room that designer Laura Štorcelová fills with houseplants and a murmuring radio. We are greeted by Lýdia Ondrušová, speaking as a mother wrestling with having a daughter who lives on the other side of Slovakia, in Bratislava. It quickly becomes clear that the actor is voicing someone other than herself, she’s reflecting her mother, and the other side of her own life.
The older women in the audience nod along, thinking about their own children and reactions to this matriarch’s predicament:
MOTHER: Sometimes I think I will sell it all, I will follow them to Bratislava, but you know. I will sell my last panties here and still won't be able to get a one room apartment. And where will I find a job? I don't know anyone there.
I just wish for this. For the girls to have more common sense than I had, so that they don't find such idiots I did. So I blame myself sometimes that I explode from nervousness at Matilda and she always comes, like Mommy, Mommy, don't be angry, Mommy. She kisses the phone when Lydka calls. The three of us spend so little time together. But so what, I take it how it is, Lydka has her own life in Bratislava. Right? I understand it's like this, it has to be this way. What is the time? Half past. So... I am so chatty... I have to go, because the girl is at Grandma's, so I don't know, do you have keys, or what? I will walk you out. You didn't take any biscuits, I know, it's quite ordinary, but what can I... have at least biscuits... I don't want to push you out, but my mom is almost seventy...
I hope I didn't shame her... Goodbye.
And we are ushered out of the house into a crisp, spring Bratislava afternoon.
The realities of motherhood discussed in this play often remain unspoken in society, whether that be society in Slovakia or the US, and this poetic work of theatre exposes and evokes these issues in a way that only theatre can accomplish.
* This performance was awarded the Audience Choice at the Nova Drama/New Drama 2019 awards ceremony.