BY: KONSTANTIN ILIEV
DIRECTED BY: MAXIMA BOEVA
SET DESIGN: BORIS DALCHEV
COSTUME DESIGN: VASILENA YALAMOVA
MOVEMENT: ANNA MARIA NEDKOVA
CAST: IRNIA MITEVA, ALEXANDER EVGENIEV
FROM: DRAMA AND PUPPET THEATRE - SHUMEN
MAIN PROGRAM, BULGARIAN SELECTION
DATE ATTENDED: JUNE 2nd, 2019
What I Saw
This evening’s offering from the Varna International Theatre Festival is a three-decade-old two-hander boudoir drama. Set in the early 20th Century, Nirvana is an intense and intimate portrayal of the disintegration of the relationship between Bulgarian poet Peyo Yavorov and his wife Lora Karavelova. Though acted with an admirable fervor, the production reveled in its own intensity and self-perceived artfulness rather than offering an emotional journey for the audience, suffering not from a lack of clever design or embodied performance but uninspired direction.
Here, again, I must admit that my lack of facility with the Bulgarian language was a hindrance to my comprehension, as the play consisted primarily of long scenes of complex dialogue without any subtitles. My primary take away from this staging was that Peyo Yavorov is something like Bulgaria’s Konstantin Treplev - a writer pained by his own self-perceived genius as well as his own shortcomings, viciously passionate about his art and his love - so much so that his passion manifests as emotional and physical abuse (though the staging suggested his wife reciprocated such behavior herself). This abuse seemingly contributed to the play’s (and the historical) conclusion - wherein Lora Karavelova commits suicide via the gun with which she so eagerly taunts Peyo Yavorov throughout the performance.
At the front of the stage was a curtain that parted along the horizontal dimension like an eyelid, narrowing or widening the portal through which the audience viewed the play. This functioned - in a way - to change the ‘aspect ratio’ of the audience’s perspective and establish different modalities of action. Never fully opening to the height of the proscenium, the curtain conjured a Hitchcockian intensity - narrowing in moments of extreme emotion. When fully narrowed, the production entered an abstract space; when widened, we were privy to the more naturalistic and dialogue-heavy scenes.
The production opened with the curtain narrowed to a thin viewing slit. The body of Alexander Evgeniev (who portrayed Peyo Yavorov) emerged, shirtless and starkly lit in down light and donning a Venetian mask. This moment offered me all I could ever ask of the theatre: a thin, frail body that speaks more by subtle gesture than any soliloquy could hope to communicate, flesh undulating under skin pulled taut, stark gestural abstractions somewhere between agony and ecstasy - a prodigious opening to say the least. Nevertheless, the precise significance of the mask failed to resonate with me, though I was unconcerned with its significance in the opening as the image was too breathtaking. But the Venetian mask returned with each iteration, and I was left questioning, “Why the mask?” If simply an aesthetic choice, it wasn’t aesthetic enough; if a metaphorical choice, the metaphor failed to properly articulate itself beyond the most basic symbolic significance of a ‘mask’.
Another quick admission: I’ll acknowledge here that this story is surely familiar to the predominantly Bulgarian audience, so my criticism of the narrative structure here probably doesn’t hold water for most everyone else in the theatre. The play won a series of awards here in Bulgaria - an award for best performance at the Bulgarian Drama Festival in 2018, an award for best directing at the National Festival for Small Theatre Forms in 2018, and 2019 Ikar nominations for best set design and best debut. Considering this, I’m wondering if perhaps - in re-staging this production for its limited run at the Varna Festival - something was lost.