The renowned drama by Kole Čašule – organized in a fairly non-standard quadraphonic/four section form (in four parts, and not, as would have been customary, in four acts), entitled with quite the stigmatic and adequately connotative syntagm Darkness – is undoubtedly one of the key Macedonian dramas, and at the same time a drama that is laconically (“by automatism”) attributed with being a “national classic”, whatever this quite undetermined/undeterminable formulation means. The text that follows aims to study the potential meanings of this formulation, trying to argument them or raise them as problems with the help of exact and absolutely confirmable facts.
First, the apparently formal facts:
Written between 1956 and 1960, the drama was first published in parts or in fragments in the daily newspaper Nova Makedonija (1960) and in the magazine Razgledi (1960/61). Only later – when the whole text was published, meaning “checked” by the author – did its first performance take place, staged in the Macedonian Peoples Theatre (Makedonski naroden teatar) in Skopje, the then central (most prestigious/most representative/most influential…) theatre in the state, national in its nominal (onomastic), but also in its cultural/ideological importance. Directed by Ilija Milčin, the premiere took place on January 26, 1961, with the participation of the best actors that the ensemble had at that time: Peter Prličko as Fezliev, Ilija Džuvalekovski as Lukov, Vukan Dinevski as Ivan, Todorka Kondova-Zafirovska as Neda, Aco Jovanovski as the Youngster… The post-premiere success was decent (as befits a small environment) but also – evident1F. Only after the acknowledgements that this drama received outside Macedonia did its “value” in the domestic context “rise”.
In the course of the past 45 years, there have been as many as 26 new productions of Darkness (14 in Macedonia and 12 abroad), and it has thus become one of the five or six most frequently staged Macedonian plays in general.2F In the last two years, this drama has seen two exceptionally successful and apparently exceptional radical stageings, by the directors Dejan Projkovski (2004 in the Štip National Theatre) and Slobodan Unkovski (2005, in the Macedonian National Theatre in Skopje).
Incidentally, Darkness was the first Macedonian drama to gain awards at some of the respected and influential festivals held at the time in the former common state (Sterijno pozorje, 1961: the Special Sterija Award for a Dramatic Text, awarded to the author; the Sterija Award for Acting, awarded to Petre Prličko) and first to be translated and published in several foreign languages (Croatian, 1962; Czech, 1964; Polish, 1972; Serbian, 1975; English, 1977 – published in New York, in what was at the time the very important publication Five Modern Yugoslav Plays). One of the first Macedonian motion pictures (if I’ve counted accurately – the seventh, Days of Temptation, directed in 1965 by Branko Gapo) was based on motifs from Darkness.
What is it that makes Darkness so intriguing over so long a term?
Is it that, maybe, the theatres and their spectators are continuously interested by the so-called “drama story” (the plot) that the author, as an excellent craftsman of drama, so skilfully develops?
At first sight that “story” is organized/theatralised around the explosive theme of treason (national, of course), “combined” with the unavoidable and impudent (politicking) manipulation of men and their destinies, additionally garnished with violence and terrorism. Formally and only apparently, this “story” theatralises (refers to, recycles, comments on with/through theatrical means of expression…) an authentic historical event in 1921: the assassination of Gjorče Petrov, who was an ideologue of the Macedonian cause and, as is written in history and reference books, “one of the apostles of the revolutionary and national liberation movement of the Macedonian peoples” (Павловски, 2002:249). In the 1921 shown, the Macedonians are people without space, without their own state. Even rational (Hegelian) history (and not only fabulous and always poetic, even pathetic mythology), determines such a marked, Goran Stefanovski would say ‘tattooed’,3F national status as exceptionally contingent, that is, colloquially said, as curse(d). Čašule himself, but also his readers/interpreters, including the “most modern”, like to decode Darkness also as a paradigm of what happens to people without space throughout the long and uncertain process of painfully gaining territory. If there is any insistence at all on the eventual historicism of this drama, it should be looked for (and also found) mainly by following this contingent and thus quite seductive trail.
Nevertheless, some recent interpretations, especially those found in textbooks – since the mother tongue and literature curricula include Darkness in the compulsory reading assignments – tend to slip: not recognizing the “contigent” (as Paul Ricoeur says) trap, some interpreters of the drama not seldom automatically qualify it as historical (by genre) and, of course, as national (by topic, central idea, leit motiv, so-called content… and so on).
Does the notorious fact – that Darkness “touches” one authentic historical event (and it “touches” it by conditionally taking as theme and theatre act some dramatic situations conditionally linked to it) – does such an artificial/constructed fact appear worthy/valid as an argument for this drama to be determined as historical?
1. It is interesting to compare the critical accounts written and published immediately after the premiere, with those published after the first serious acknowledgements and awards that occurred after few months; the Macedonian theater critics seemed to be still “discovering” the meta-textual implications that the dramatic score entangles, recognizing their relevance.
2. If we “exempt” the highly rated and absolutely non-standard theater destiny of Powder Cage, by Dejan Dukovski (premiere 1995) – a play with only one production in Macedonia, but with around thirty abroad – the domestic theatre public has shown the most interest in drama of a stressed national type: The Eloped by Vasil Iljoski (since 1928, 24 productions to date), Master Teodos by the same author (since 1936, 23 productions to date), Migrant Workers by Anton Panov (since 1936, 23 stagings to date – 21 in Macedonia and 2 abroad) and Macedonian Blood Wedding by Vojdan Černodrinski (14 productions in Macedonia and 1 in Sofia – the legendary premiere in 1900, that was afterwards repeated several times, directed by the author himself).
3. See Goran Stefanovski, 1985, Tattooed Souls, stage play.