All images by Vojtěch Brtnický
(based on the novel Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky)
Adapted by Ondrej Spišák
Directed by Ondrej Spišák
(Teatro Tatro, nomadic)
Premiere: 29 April 2018
Date I Saw This Show: 8 May 2019
What I Saw
For the final entry in the festival, audience members are taken by bus to a parking area, ushered off the buses, given headlamps, escorted through a field by people with machine guns, and led into a military tent. The audience was seated in three rows on each side of a 5 – 6 feet wide traverse running the length of the tent. As this action-horror experience begins, we’re introduced to Red, a sweaty stalker—or a person who raids areas where aliens landed in search of artifacts to sell on the black market—with a tight black shirt, cargo pants, combat boots and, apparently, a hundred cigarettes and only an hour and a half to smoke them. Oh…and the dead are coming back to life.
The tent becomes a variety of locales: when we first meet Red, he’s working with the scientists getting legit artifacts, but then one scientist wants to go get a “full-empty,” a rare artifact indeed. Two crates stacked become the hover device used to get into “The Zone” and the Doctor and Red use tent poles to rappel to the ground. Cardboard boxes double as tables as we follow Red to his local watering hole, which is convenient since the tables are crushed as the patrons are slammed into them during a bar fight. We even journey to Red’s house and visit his wife and daughter, whose deterioration into an animal-like state seems mysteriously connected to Red’s work as a Stalker.
After retrieving the full-empty, the Doctor dies, leaving Red to pursue the life of a Stalker full time. Life in the city is deteriorating as a parade of people wearing alien-esque religious garb walk through the streets. Red is bringing home artifacts to sell, and after stepping out to put them in the back of the house, he returns to the house with his leg on fire, to which his wife casually notes: “you’re on fire again.” And Red casually pats the fire out. This section of the production culminates with an offer that Red can’t refuse from an old business partner. Red and his former partner seal the deal by having a shot of vodka with Red’s corpse of a father, a bunraku corpse puppet operated by Red’s daughter with her head on her grandpa’s shoulder.
From this point on, the story breaks down even more, and the spectacle is leaned into as Red embarks on one last score into the Zone, to retrieve a golden sphere. As Stalker’s action culminates, Red kicks out one of the tent poles, causing half of the tent to collapse and the audience to gasp, but the precision of this move was telling: as the text collapsed, a light that was rigged to a crossbeam falls to precisely where it needs to be for Red’s final gut-wrenching monologue. As the production ends, the sides of the tent are pulled up and the field surrounding us is lit, with colored smoke bombs spewing colors into the night, the breeze bringing cool air into the suffocating tent.
This piece of theatre isn’t for everyone, which was clear even during the performance we saw. The narrative left big enough holes as to be distracting for some, but it was exhilarating to be in the midst of such a dangerous piece of theatre and not feel in danger.