The multimedia artist Rok Vilčnik, who chose for himself the pseudonym Rokgre, is one of the most significant Slovenian contemporary playwrights and actors in culture in general. He was engaged in fine arts, has published three poetry collections, three novels, and more than 35 dramatic texts, and participated in projects of many Slovenian theaters. For the drama People’s Democratic Circus, Sakeshvili received the Groom Award (his third in a row), which he previously received in 2000 and 2008. Critics describe his dramatic work as innovative and incoherent, on the one hand, his dramatic texts are written in completely common and unrefined language stand out, which emphasizes the realism of the dramatic action; while the second part of his plays is written in poetry-intoned language, which is condensed, metaphorical and associative, thus his dramatic work approaches the lyrical drama.

In the explanation of the jury for the Groom Prize for 2016, it is said that the play People’s Democratic Circus “Sakeshvili” is a “drama of the absurd in its ludic version” and that it is a play that “constantly plays with the reception of the reader/spectator and constantly changes the situation created by four people whose identity keeps changing.” At the very beginning of the text, the reader notices an extremely unusual element; the theater list lists five people, four of whom have the same name as Sakeshvili, and the fifth is named only as “one more” (Vilčnik, 2016: 2). This drama in its entirety represents the performance of the People’s Democratic Circus “Sakeshvili”, and it is the first performance after the death of their lifelong president, who bears the same name as all other persons – Sakeshvili. Neither the time nor the place of the dramatic action is given, which can be interpreted in different ways: as a marker used to universalize and generalize the drama or as a means of concretizing the dramatic action in a specific moment of performance, that is, the dramatic “now.” This drama was created based on the tradition of dramas of the absurd, which is easy to notice from the multitude of seemingly unrelated scenes and the presence of absurd humor related to the actions of these characters.

However, this drama is also marked by a distinct critical aspect. Namely, the drama is a criticism of the situation in totalitarian systems that limit the individual and exercise control over him. One of the strongest critical aspects of this play is the way it indirectly shows the relationship between the totalitarian system and the individuality of the individual living in it, which is alluded to, among other things, by naming the characters. With the help of stage comedy, which is realized through absurd situations, a sharp criticism of the authorities and subordinates, who live an absurd and circus life in the totalitarian system, is presented.

There are a multitude of different ways in which this drama can transcend the traditional framework. The core of this analysis is represented by three concepts that are connected, and which refer to the idea that drama can incorporate different ideological elements. In other words, the possibility to step away from the traditional division of drama with actors as bearers of fictitious dramatic action, and of spectators exclusively as recipients of what the actors represent on stage. The idea of drama as a self-conscious literary construct is characteristic of twentieth-century drama, although the beginnings of such a pattern can be traced much earlier in the past. Three concepts of this kind, mentioned by Barbara Orel, are the following: play within a play in drama, theater of the world, and metatheatre (Orel, 2001: 110). Metatheatre is a special kind of self-awareness of drama and was first mentioned as such in Lionel Abel’s collection of essays: Metatheatre: A New View of Dramatic Form from 1963, who named with that term any theatrical work that thematized theatricalized forms of life, i.e. a life in which theatricality is immanent, which means that a drama that is aware of its life on the stage can be labeled at least as a drama with metatheatrical elements. The two most important signals of the self-awareness of the drama are the following: the existence of a character divided into a part of the character that remains in the dramatic world and a part that comes out of it, to draw the attention of the viewer to what s/he sees and to the theatrical features of the drama; another signal is play within a play in drama. Although these two means of metatheatre are basic and fundamental, many more metatheatrical elements are not so obvious, so it should be paid more attention on them, says Zoran Milutinović (1994: 9–11).

In the drama People’s Democratic Circus “Sakeshvili” it is obvious that the drama itself, i.e., the dramatic action, exceeds the traditional framework and that elements of dramatic self-awareness are largely present. Namely, the biggest and most widespread form of self-awareness of this drama is the fact that the People’s Democratic Circus “Sakeshvili”, inside the drama of the same name, is a circus and that the viewers of the drama are simultaneously watching the performance of that circus:

SAKESHVILI: Dear ladies and gentlemen, I would like to take this opportunity to apologize because today’s performance will be held under somewhat special conditions. As I already mentioned, our (…) assistant stage manager went crazy. Otherwise, we always carry a whole range of costumes and props with us, but none of that is available now. He went crazy… and not just a little. Today, when we learned about the death of our lifetime president Sakeshvili.[1]

 (Vilčnik, 2016: 4)

Considering that the ambivalence of this play is manifested throughout its whole duration, it results in a special kind of dramatic effect. In this way, the wholeness of the drama can be understood as a play within a play in a drama, and therefore metatheatrical elements in this drama are established as its key feature. Therefore, at the very beginning, the division between theater and life is erased, and the author created a self-conscious drama, i.e., metadrama.

In trying to illuminate the metatheatrical elements in this play, it is important to bear in mind Barbara Orel’s research in her paper on the play-within-a-play structure as one of the elements of the play’s self-awareness. Orel, namely, lists the terms that make up the constitutive elements of a play in a play as a dramatic device:

1. Primary, parent, i.e. framework drama, i.e. the dramatic text in which a play within a play is integrated; 2. a play within a play, i.e., theater within a theater, i.e., the play that is inserted into the primary drama and concerning the other dramatic action, which is going on at the same time, is presented as a theatrical performance; 3. fictitious audience are the characters who, during the performance of the play within a play, have the role of its spectator; 4. the real audience are the visitors who see the play in which the play-within-a-play is inserted. The definition of theater in theater is established from their point of view (Orel, 2001: 102).

[1] All the quotations from the drama represent the translations of the author of this paper, made exceptionally for this purpose.

AuthorDarko Ilin
2023-10-01T11:58:51+00:00 September 9th, 2023|Categories: Reviews, Literature, Blesok no. 151|Comments Off on METATHEATRICAL ELEMENTS IN THE DRAMA PEOPLE’S DEMOCRATIC CIRCUS SAKESHVILI BY ROK VILČNIK