The Playgoer: Welcome Back, Václav

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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Welcome Back, Václav

Havel's back. On stage, that is. After two decades of, oh, running the country.

Here's a tantalizing rundown of the new play, Leaving:

Set in a cherry orchard - deliberately reminiscent of Chekhov and not dissimilar to Havel's own country retreat, Lany, where he used to host the foreign press with sausages and beer - Leaving tells the story of Vilém Rieger, the leader of an unknown country, who cannot cope with discarding the trappings of power and finds that his world falls apart. Taking his cue from King Lear, he rails that he is "a man more sinned against than sinning". But the vain, philandering ruler is eventually forced out of his government villa by political rivals. They build a shopping mall, casino and brothel on the site, a clear critique of how the seedier sides of consumerism have secured a strong foothold in the Czech Republic since its velvet revolution.
The playwright-president's only words to the audience at his curtain call? "Thank-you to the audience for switching off their mobile phones. Truth and love must triumph over lies and hatred. The audience may now switch their phones back on - goodnight and pleasant dreams!"

Man, those cell phones make trouble everywhere!


Anonymous said...

Actually, those were not Havel's words live. The play uses a recorded voiceover of “the author,” which, in the case of the production in Prague, is actually the voice of, well, the author. The Voice interrupts the plays throughout with sometimes helpful, sometimes intrusive comments and advice. The final lines are scripted and part of the play. Havel himself was in the audience and did not make a speech. But he did receive a ten minute standing ovation, and the production has received great critical success in Prague. Next stop: London, the Orange Tree Theater. And more good news: Havel is working on his next play.

Edward Einhorn
Artistic Director, Vaclav Havel Festival

Playgoer said...

Thanks for setting that straight, Edward. I must admit the article confused me a bit. I guess I underestimated how delightfully weird the evening was!