All images by Ctibor Bachratý
Vodka and Chrome (Nurses, Patients,
Doctors, and Dissidents)
By Viliam Klimáček
Directed by Viliam Klimáček
(GUnaGU Theatre, Bratislava)
Premiere: 18 October 2018
Date I Saw This Show: 7 May 2019
What I Saw
Before Viliam Klimáček founded GUnaGU theatre in 1985, he was a surgeon and anesthetist. This entry in Nova Drama took the audience into GUnaGU’s theatre space, an underground, bunker-like space in the old city of Bratislava. A guitar player (Zbyňo Džadoň) sits on the top of a ladder, head disappearing in the darkness at the top of the arched room. As Džadoň plays a song, nurses and doctors take the stage, and we find ourselves in an absurd, dark-comedy, musical reflection on life before the Velvet Revolution.
The focus of Klimáček’s play is a group of surgeons and nurses working in a hospital, and their occasional patients, including a famous children’s author. Some of the surgeons are serious, while others write poems, or dream of hunting where the prey is enacted by another surgeon. The acting is bold, clown-like, and the production moves from musical numbers to physical theatre to sincerity to painful truth with alacrity. As Communism moves through the hospital and the surgeons begin to choose sides, the Velvet Revolution occurs and the central surgeon agrees to take the fall for everyone who was joining the communist party.
GUnaGU is known for using humor to tackle contemporary issues, no matter how serious the issue, and this 1989 period piece feels like a clown-like commentary on divisive contemporary politics. The final line of the piece makes another connection: as the characters all give a brief synopsis of what happens next for them in the story, the young surgeon poet announces that he starts a theatre, which received a large laugh, as the lens focused squarely on how what we’d seen was directly connected to where we are right now:
DOCTOR: I left medical school and I started my own theater. I know I live in a strange era and sometimes I am mad about it, but I also know that the last thirty years were the best in my life. It can´t be taken away from me