All images by Archív PND
(based on Umberto Eco's novel The Prague Cemetery)
Text by Peter Brajerčik (350 words)
Directed by Júlia Rázusová
(Prešov National Theatre, Prešov)
Premiere: 14 November 2018
Date I Saw This Show: 8 May 2019
What I Saw
Moral Insanity is the second production directed by Júlia Rázusová featured in Nova Drama. It's a stomach-churning monodrama taking on racism, both casual and overt. The stage, designed by Diana Strauszová is a cabbage patch, rows of cabbages reaching up to a horizon. Peter Brajerčik, as a scarecrow, is in the middle. A watering can and a sprayer complete the picture of a farm, not a farm for cabbage though, but a farm for ideas. There’s also a reel-to-reel player down left and one nearer the center of the cabbage patch.
Using Eco’s 2011 dark and ugly diarist of a protagonist in The Prague Cemetery as a leaping off point, Brajerčik’s monodrama begins “innocently” enough with our scarecrow coming to life and cracking wise with jokes that quickly become racial innuendos, and then not innuendos, and then imply brutal atrocities against anyone not in our protagonist’s favor.
As the scarecrow comes to life, Brajerčik begins by nurturing and watering the cabbages, then proceeds to spray them, ostensibly to protect them from bugs, but the rhetoric veers toward extermination. As the rhetoric darkens, so do the scarecrow cum gardener’s actions with the cabbages, eventually leaving him sitting in a garden ruined by his own actions and hatred.
Rázusová’s staging frames the cabbage patch with the tape of a reel to reel, strung among poles by Brajerčik during performance. Brajerčik manipulates the tape, still playing while strung around the garden, which distorts the speech and sounds coming out of it. The image of the tape player doesn’t remain at the periphery, it is brought into the garden via the other reel-to-reel player, whose tape is destroyed as Brajerčik’s logic and rhetoric descend into madness and he begins talking about coming for our families.
The audience’s electric response to this work was palpable and its message is a rebuke to the racist deflective tactic of “it’s just a joke.” After the killing of journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kusnirova, the country took to the streets in protests and elected a progressive, woman as President, rebuking the far-right neo-Nazi element. Moral Insanity has a similar passion to dig at the roots of prejudice and shine a light on how in any context this type of vitriol is poisonous, a protest attacking from within.
Brajerčik’s charm makes the whole piece tick, and having to read the race-based humor from a screen, cutting back on the ability to stay connected, certainly cut back on that charm and made the innocent humor dark from the start.
*Moral Insanity won the Grand Prix award at the 2019 Nova Drama/New Drama Festival