All images by Ctibor Bachratý
Prešov National Theatre, Prešov, SLOVAKIA
Text: Umberto Eco, Peter Brajerčík
Direction and stage concept: Júlia Rázusová
Music and space musical concept: Martin Husovský
Cooperation with set design and costumes: Diana Strauszová
Scene creation: Lenka Kucháreková
Light design: Lukáš Katuščák
Production: Linda Durkáčová
Cast: Peter Brajerčík
What I Saw
Eastern Slovak independent theatre Prešov National Theatre made its festival debut with Moral Insanity, performed by Peter Brajerčík, who also adapted the play from Umberto Eco’s novel Prague Cemetery, and directed by the company’s Artistic Director and Slovakia curator Júlia Rázusová. The piece was selected by the Be SpectACTive Audience Program Board, and was therefore not considered a part of the Slovak program.
In a cabbage field a young man takes a crucifixion stance and rails against various European identities and Jewish people, spouts conspiracy theories, such as butter being linked to infertility, and insinuates that he has committed lethal acts. Rázusová doesn’t direct Brajerčík to underplay so much as charm us with humor and relativism before bringing the hammer down with reminders that he is deplorable and terrifying, asking “Where has it been written that you must tell the truth? And what is truth” or stating, “Identification with race is not merely a physical one but a spiritual one.” The play tells a chilling story of these voices being amplified in Europe, though of course this hatred and spreading of disinformation is all too familiar in the United States as well.
Rázusová founded Prešov National Theatre with playwright and dramaturg Michaela Zakutanská in 2013, with the cheeky accompanying slogan, “Prešov, a good place to die.” The two returned to their hometown in eastern Slovakia, where, Rázusová says, “it’s very hard to live, without many possibilities of work.” Opportunities are more plentiful in western Slovakia, where the country’s capital, Bratislava, is located and which is also closer to other large cities like Vienna.
The company built critical success outside of Prešov and a loyal audience base within the city with Zakutanská’s plays about the struggles of young adults in this region. Their audience is between twenty and forty years old. “When you are a single person in the east of Slovakia you feel lost if you are twenty-five and still don’t have any family,” Rázusová explained to me. “Many people [this age] already have five year old kids. So we mirrored these problems and were successful because people find themselves in these themes.”
Prešov National Theatre now produces work other than Zakutanská’s, though they continue to be drawn to themes and issues affecting their city and Slovakia. Moral Insanity is a case in point. According to Razusova, the play addresses the growing tide of racism and ignorance currently sweeping Slovakia, which people across of all backgrounds are propagating. “The theme of Moral Insanity is a big problem not just in the east of Slovakia but all Slovakia with big xenophobia and fear forming people into this “moral insanity,”” she says. “They are not able to decide by themselves and are manipulated by newspapers, media, and so on.
Many people think that workers are people who believe in conspiracies but it’s not true, many educated people believe in this kind of news and we searched for how to communicate it with this audience in an artistic way.”
Moral Insanity holds a mirror up to society degraded by fear and hatred. Will we recognize ourselves in the glass?
About the Artist
Júlia Rázusová (1982)
graduated in aesthetics and Slovak language and literature from the Faculty of Arts of the Prešov University and in theatre directing and dramaturgy from the Academy of Performing Arts in Bratislava. Her directorial style is characterised by elements of physical and experimental theatre. In 2009, she completed a course on physical theatre at Rose Bruford College, London. Since 2013, she is artistic director of the independent Prešov National Theatre, which she co ‑founded with dramaturge Michaela Zakuťanská. She was a director in the international project Platforma 11+ and has collaborated with most theatres in Slovakia, for instance Astorka Korzo ‘90, Andrej Bagar Theatre in Nitra, Alexander Duchnovič Theatre in Prešov, the Slovak National Theatre, the State Theatre Košice, J. G. Tajovský Theatre in Zvolen, Žilina City Theatre and others. She earned the Dosky 2018 award for Best Direction of the Season with her production of Joël Pommerat’s The Reunification of the Two Koreas (State Theatre Košice, staged at Divadelná Nitra 2018). Her play Moral Insanity, produced at the Prešov National Theatre, earned her the Grand Prix at the Nová dráma/New Drama Festival 2019.