The Wild Duck
TITLE: THE WILD DUCK
BY: HENRIK IBSEN
DIRECTED BY: KRIS SHARKOV
SET DESIGN: NIKOLA TOROMANOV
MUSIC: ASEN AVRAMOV
DRAMATURGE: SVETLANA PANCHEVA
SECOND ASSISTANT DIRECTORS: IRINA IVANOVA & BORYANA MITEVA
CAST: IVAN BARNEV, ANA PAPADOPULU, ELENA TELBIS, VALENTIN GANEV, TSVETAN ALEKSIEV, SAVA DRAGUNCHEV, VALENTIN BALABANOV, ILIANA KODZHABASHEVA, VASIL ILIEV
FROM “IVAN VAZOV” NATIONAL THEATRE
DATE ATTENDED: 3 JUNE 2019
What I Saw
The first Bulgarian-language production with subtitles was, in many ways, a perfect piece of theatre - a play from a canonical playwright adapted for the contemporary stage without sacrificing the poesy or pathos of the original text. This is the third time director Kris Sharkov has tasked himself with adapting an Ibsen play for the current moment - previously working on A Doll’s House and Enemy of the People. It seems his familiarity with Ibsen has served him well, as this production is the highlight of the festival thus far. The casting, acting, and directing were so superb that, despite the presence of subtitles, I hardly found myself relying on them for comprehension of the stage action (and The Wild Duck is not an Ibsen play with which I had much pre-existing familiarity).
The director wisely chose a text that perhaps speaks more to the present moment than it did in its original era, one that in many ways directly articulates our modern image-world and culture’s profligate use of images to “deal with the present” by mediating and constructing disingenuous perceptions of reality. As Sharkov says in the festival program: “The play was written at the dawn of the 20th Century technological breakthroughs, and the subject of photography is key to its contemporary interpretation. […] For the first time, the problem of the image, of the reflection, of the simulacrum was introduced into modern drama. The issue with the illusions in this play is also the problem of the artist.”
For this production, the audience sat on the stage on either side of a smaller, elevated alley stage, anchored on one end by a photography lab and the other by a small backdrop that functioned as a projection screen. The staging was intimate, which behooved the familial drama at the heart of the play - a simple, smart, and effective choice on all accounts.
The Wild Duck predates Chekhov’s The Seagull, yet in many ways the plays revolve around some of the same concerns - so much so that I might now easily be convinced that Chekhov heavily borrowed from the character of Hjamlar Ekdal when crafting Konstantin Treplev. Sure, both plays’ namesakes are common birds, and the plays’ characters obsess about these birds, all of whom are self-aware in their reliance on their respective birds as metaphors. Further, both plays involve suicide attempts and conclude with an act of violence, and both plays interrogate the nature of truth-in-life vis-a-vis truth-in-art with beautiful abandon.
This production ends unresolved. In Ibsen’s text, it’s made quite clear that Hedvig - the protagonist’s daughter - takes her own life rather than that of the eponymous wild duck to demonstrate her depth of love for her father Hjamlar. In the production, however, it’s not clear that Hedvig successfully commits suicide as one of the final lines - delivered by the character of Dr. Relling - is “She’s still alive! Call an ambulance!”