I rode my bike in my silk skirt and black leather jacket to the Slovenian National Theatre production of Goethe’s “Faust” in Ljubljana. I didn’t speak to the person in the box office, just handed her my phone with the email confirmation of my purchased ticket. She handed me back my phone along with a paper ticket and said, “Hvala.” I then said “Hvala” back to her. It is one of two Slovenian words I know. “Hvala,” thank you and “Dober dan,” hello.
I sat in the the first row of the balcony on the aisle and looked at the stage which had about a shin’s-deep amount of water on it. I was riveted immediately. I’d seen “Othello” at Trinity Rep in Providence years ago which was performed in subterranean fashion and thought it was outstanding. The utilization of water seemed to convey the emotional isolation the characters felt.
But this production at the Slovenian National Theatre was absolutely the most innovative and alive piece of theatre I have ever seen: the raw emotion, the urgency, the strange characterizations, the specific physicality of each individual actor, the dynamic interaction with the water, the constantly changing superimposed images on the two pieces of moving set.
I knew the story of Goethe’s “Faust,” had read it and had seen the play in English, but of course I couldn’t understand the language of this version. And yet, it was the most visceral experience I’d ever had as an audience member. I wanted to reach inside myself and find that level of expression, that fearlessness to be truthful, to not hide. It shook me to the core. Language didn’t matter. I was deeply connected to something I identified with, artistically and emotionally. And not having to fight with my intellect, with words, I was able to enter the world on stage with a different part of myself. To be able to do so with such an outstanding piece of theatre was truly nourishing.
I’m here in Ljubljana on a Fulbright Grant to complete my collection of lyric essays. To break up the hours I spend writing, I wander around my apartment singing show tunes or find interesting cultural events to make my way on foot or bike to.
Tonight I went to the Ljubljana Puppet Theatre. Again, I couldn’t understand the language so I had no idea what the story of “The Scary Fairy” was, but I laughed with the children as we sat on colorful cushioned benches with comfy pillowed backs. An animated film played behind the actors and puppets on the stage and we saw a red teapot getting closer and closer. Suddenly there was an actual giant red teapot on the stage and a creature with five tree branch braids going every which way spilled out of the pot. She was just as physical and connected to her emotional life as the actors in “Faust” and it was sheer delight to watch her jump about and scream and blow fairy dust. I still don’t know what kind of creature she was. It didn’t matter. I loved it. Puppet theatres have had a long tradition is Slovenia and I intend to learn more about them.