Why Did We Kill Romanticism?
Georgian stage director David Doiashvili (b. 1971) is a returning guest at the National Theatre in Budapest. He made his mark by Macbeth at MITEM I in 2014 with his company (Vaso Abashidze State Music and Drama Theatre, Tbilisi, Georgia); it was a success at numerous international festivals and won several awards. In 2015 he gave us a new vision of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which he produced with the artists of the National Theatre in Budapest. His interpretation of Maxim Gorky’s The Lower Depths, a production by his own company in Tbilisi, featured in MITEM last year. This year he will present Cyrano de Bergerac, with the company of the National Theatre, at MITEM. The interview below was published in the Nemzeti Színház Magazin (National Theatre Magazine) apropos of the opening of Cyrano last year.
– In the musical trailer of Cyrano, which premiered in your direction in Tbilisi in 2010 we could not find the enormous nose of the protagonist. Does that not rob the play of its dramatic tension?
In this performance everything has been turned around. The nose gains prominence as a comical, as opposed to a dramatic element. As such, the nose is a symbol of our complexes and frustrations. The other reason for this directorial decision is that a big-nosed Cyrano would simply be old-fashioned today. There are though significant differences between these two performances. To mention just a single example, the Tbilisi performance had period costumes while the current one does not use 17th century garments. Besides, judging Cyrano based solely on his huge nose is a superficial approach of the play. The nose itself only accentuates the comical situation – but this effect can also be achieved otherwise. In fact, if we read the play itself we will find that of all the players Cyrano is the only one to state that he has a huge nose – all the others only react to this statement. Thus my belief that Cyrano only thinks that his nose is too big.
– This nose is an imaginary trait similar to the way in which we attempt to create an image of ourselves in virtual reality? Most of the time we would want to present a more flattering image, while Cyrano paints himself in quite a depressive way.
Actually, in the real world I am quite apprehensive of the virtual. While walking the streets I think that is my reality. When logging on to Facebook, however, I am confronted with an entirely different reality. I often ask myself: which one is the more real one? The virtual space or the actual one I live in? It is as if our dreams would continue after we wake up.
– So can we say that the play is something like Cyrano editing Christian’s Facebook page? He does “post” beautiful poems on behalf of Christian, after all…
On the surface, Cyrano does seem to be courting on behalf of Christian, but I rather think he uses Christian as a proxy. But the Facebook metaphor falls apart in one meaningful way. In virtual reality, courting has all but disappeared. “Wanna have sex? Yes? Fine.” That’s all there is. It is so much more beautiful if people write elaborate letters! Why is it a bad thing that a man would want to accomplish great feats for a woman? Why should people be ashamed of their love? These things are evaporating from our world. Should we still meet such people, we would often ridicule them. The choice of using the best-known Hungarian translation of the play – that of Emil Ábrányi – was a deliberate one. The language of the performance is quite important to me because the romanticism and poetry of the original play must be kept intact. If I had to give a reason for staging this play, it would be something like: “Why did we kill our inner romanticism?
– According to the Cyrano calculus, the protagonist plus Christian add up to one full man. You did, however bring five Roxanes into the equation. Why?
Whenever we think we have figured out a woman, she would to something entirely unexpected, baffling the man – as if this was the act of an entirely different woman. Whenever I read Cyrano de Bergerac I have the feeling that in every single one of its five acts Roxane does something quite inconsistent with her previous behaviour, as if it was another woman. Thus we have five of her in the performance. They will each appear as the story progresses, but in this stage of the rehearsals I can already see that the five will also appear simultaneously.
– In your 2014 direction A Midsummer Night’s Dream you turned a play previously known as a fairytale comedy into a tragic dreamscape. How would you define the genre of your Cyrano?
That is a tough one. I would very much like to start with a light comedy, but at the current stage of the rehearsals I have no idea where we will end up. The actors are terrific and they have brought many exciting ideas into the process. I am also at a difficulty in answering the question as I cannot pinpoint the difference between comedy and tragedy. An important point in case is Chekhov’s letter in which he states that in the manuscript he defined The Cherry Orchard as a comedy. He subsequently left the manuscript at the Moscow Art Theatre and went to Yalta. His wife, who remained in Moscow, later wrote Chekhov that all who read the play liked it very much but none of them could understand how it is a comedy. Chekhov replied: I am in Yalta, it is May, everything around me is in bloom and soon I will be dead. Isn’t that a comedy?
– A Midsummer Night’s Dream in your direction was characterised as a grand display of stage technology. Can we expect something similar?
I am always baffled by such criticism. The stage of the National Theatre has amazing technical capabilities and I’m quite surprised others don’t use them to better effect. Of course we will make use of these in Cyrano. I tend to lean towards minimalism and dislike elaborate staging, I am quite keen on using available technology if that adds to the experience.
Interview by György Lukácsy
Magazine of the National Theatre, April–May 2016
Translated by Dénes Albert
(15 April 2017)