BY: YANA BORISSOVA
DIRECTED BY: GALIN STOEV
SET DESIGN BY: YULIYAN TABAKOV
CAST: RADENA VALKANOVA, STEFAN VALDOBREV, VEZHEN VELCHOVSKI, SNEZHINA PETROVA, VLADIMIR PENEV
FROM THEATRE 199
What I Saw
Pleasantlyscary has been lauded as “the most successful and critically acclaimed new Bulgarian drama of the passing decade.” It is a meandering drama about intimate relationships - focusing on two brothers, the two women they love, and an eccentric choir master. Set against the backdrop of one of the female characters obsessively planning to construct a garden for her future self that will likely never live outside the realm of romantic ideations, the play explores the hopes and desires the characters are hesitant to admit exist - even to themselves.
The scenic design was quite simple, consisting of a series of benches creating a U-shape. Throughout the play, the characters visited an array of locations - a flower shop, the foyer of a theatre, an apartment - but I was not always along for the ride, as the more-or-less blank stage left something to be desired. Further, the production made a bold choice to forsake props, having the actors mime almost every ‘item’ on stage.This makes metaphorical sense in the context of a show that’s all about the fact that its characters cannot articulate (and thus never achieve) their dreams. From a practical standpoint, however, I found the mime-work to be less than specific, which consistently alienated me from the stage action.
Regularly, the play turned to direct addresses - giving each character a moment to soliloquize with the audience. In one such instance, a character halted their speech, produced a ribbon, and danced energetically about the stage; this proved the be the play’s most emotionally-connected moment for me - a moment of abandoning the conversation upon which the play so heavily relies for something that can be expressed only by unleashing the dancing beast inside oneself.
The performances in this production - particularly of Vladimir Penev who also displayed his monumental theatrical talents in The Drunken Ones - were all well-suited for the play. His performance as the Choir Master was the highlight of the production; he filled every moment with subtext made manifest, prominently displaying the character’s anxious interior. A performance like this cannot be scripted, so my presumption is that the driving force here was the actor himself. Without such a committed and hilarious performance, Pleasantlyscary would not have had half of its appeal. Though the play’s most minor character, Penev’s performance anchored the production; even in his absence, I remained attentive in the hopes that he may suddenly appear.
Though this production was full of merit and the play itself smartly interrogates the domain of the torturous relationships we have to our unfulfilled dreams, the show never rose above its own mundanity into a special theatrical experience.