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REVIEWS

CHARMING MY FLEAS

IN GERMAN

Shaman Pliska

Reviews

Translated from Bulgarian

February 3 - 9, 2001, “KAPITAL”

A SIX-PART MONOLOGUE
Anelia Yaneva

   A   fratricide and a treasure have threaded onto a skewer the fates   of six people from three generations. A goblin is knocking the   tiles down in Avram Tanurkov’s home and the gold is taking   its blood toll from each successive owner. Children pay for   their parents’ wrongdoings and commit their own sins in   turn. And when the old sinner “goes the way of all flesh”   the goblin exclaims: “My, my, what a white soul you’ve   got! I was expecting some greasy one…”

   Boyan Papazov’s play Charming my Fleas, written in six years (1993-1999) assumed a bodily form for the first time in the National Army Theatre. The polyphony of life, the arresting confessions, the language, multicoloured like a Rhodope Mountain rug, the compact characters overflow from the play into the audience and turn both performers and spectators into a company of common sympathies. The text’s powerful impact reminds of The Heaven Forsaken by Ekaterina Tomova. Charming my Fleas belongs to the same high literary standard although it was written exclusively for the theatre. The play consists of six monologues (Tanurko’s piece encloses the child’s voice of the young brother he killed, but this does not change its monologue essence). Each of them can exist separately as a monospectacle without losing its meaning or implications. Krikor Azaryan’s decision to change their places only proves this. The director has arranged their talking puzzle in his own way and this, in my opinion, is for the better. However he has not managed to translate adequately the mystic tragicomedy into stage language. Although he is apparently taking advantage of what the last theatre vogue has on offer (video design Georgi Bogdanov and Boris Misirkov), the stage version makes a shallow plunge into the multilayered textual depth. Nikola Toromanov has divided the stage into two levels: this world and the beyond. Moreover in the beginning and in the end we see on a screen the alarm clock of time, gone back to ticking, and the twisted bodies of the story participants, whose souls leave their bodily shells one by one. But the director’s work is far from the high yardstick he has demonstrated in Three Sisters (Sofia Theatre), Quartet (Sfumato Theatrical Workshop) and Verona (The National Theatre).

   However the actors’ performance can only make the National Army Theatre regret it voluntarily renounced its claims to the Askeer Award. Vasil Mihailov’s Avram Tanurkov is loaded with the experience of a man who has passed through all the insanity of a political rule, accepted the burden of his sin and hence forgiven the sin of his murderers. Meglena Karalambova (Spasia) radiates with the piety of her stage character. The actress has perfectly mastered the gestures of a tough woman who has spent her life toiling in the fields and the black kerchief is a bit incompatible with the otherwise childish face. There is also a peculiar contrast between, on the one hand, the real age and stage experience of Kristina Yaneva, one of the theatre’s young recruits, and, on the other hand, her breathtaking performance as Beba the Swan. Under the shaggy wig of the junky who has always played blind man’s buff with death, in the hoarse voice and the rough slang, in the stiff body and paralysed hand there is not even a trace of the actress’ characteristic temperament and verve. What we see on the stage is just the empty shell of a creature whose spirit has died long ago. Kamen Donev’s Zdravko is a baby-face killer who, probably unaware of the monstrosity of his deed, just passes nonchalantly through his short life. Deyan Donkov’s Lazar is truly resurrected, just like the biblical prototype, from his wicked ways, but his performance still lacks the power and rich connotations of the final cry: “God bless my soul!” And Stefania Koleva confers a resounding depth to the words: “I talk nasty things and I myself become… just like the whole sad nasty junk around…”

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Translated from Bulgarian

February 2, 2001, Friday, “KULTURA”

ON STAGE: BOYAN PAPAZOV
Violeta Decheva


   CHARMING MY FLEAS by Boyan Papazov, National Army Theatre, Director Krikor Azaryan, Design Nikola Toromanov, Visual Design Georgi Bogdanov and Boris Misirkov, Music Stefan Vuldobrev. Featuring: Vasil Mihailov, Meglena Karalambova, Deyan Donkov, Kristina Yaneva, Kamen Donev, Stefania Koleva, etc.

   Charming my Fleas is Boyan Papazov's last play and one of his best. In fact, it is one of the best Bulgarian plays written in recent years. The language of the characters of the social margin is rich, down-to-earth, physiological, esoteric, hyperrealistic, image-obsessed, agile, flexible. Performative. Playing on the scene of imagination, if read as a text. Keeping its plentiful literary aspects, if staged. It is deeply rooted in the archetypes of Bulgarian literature and drama. It desperately reaches for someone out there. Someone who might listen or understand. But where is s/he? This simple at first sight question remains unanswered. We can detect it in some other texts by Boyan Papazov like Nadezhda the Blind, for instance: " Words can't burn in fire. (…) We shouldn't keep silent. Some day they'll hear us." In Charming my Fleas this is exactly the main question, crucified on its own dramatic intensity. In the end Tanurko's soul, looking from high above at the people, crawling on the earth like fleas, utters sadly: "Good Lord, nobody ever gets heard! They are charming their fleas, just mumbling, and nobody cares what the next person is mumbling to his fleas." The familiar echo of existentialism and the no less familiar bitterness of "uninstructive" History are easily recognisable in the closed circle of living and speaking, reproduced by each member of Tanurko's family. There is also one of the key themes of Bulgarian literature, recurring in the works of our best writers: the intrinsic loneliness, reticence and even hostility to the words/experience/life of the Other inside the otherwise healthy Bulgarian patriarchal family.

   Needless to say, Boyan Papazov's text is open to different plains of reading. It can be read even as an answer to, or interpretation of, some basic Bulgarian drama plots, like that of Boryana by Yovkov, for instance. Tanurko, just like the character in Boryana, is squatting dog-like over his stolen, sinful gold, but he lacks the possibility of hope which Yovkov opens with Boryana's entrance. Boryana, like most of Yovkov's female personae, is a transgressive image. She is the hope for change in the status quo, not the blind, but the poetic hope, capable of giving birth to something new and different. Boyan Papazov instead gets the souls of his characters on stage, hovering there in the beyond, watching the people down whirling like dervishes in the orbits of their lives. Thus he trusts his hope to the still unfathomed and mysterious way of human life, to Lazar who begets a son.

   Boyan Papazov defines Charming my Fleas as "mystic tragicomedy". Krikor Azaryan's interpretation sheds some of the mysticism, although the visual environment and the stage second level are supposed to add mysticism to "the theatre of life going on down there" inside the "windows" opened for each of the characters. I can imagine how difficult the staging of this text is. Krikor Azaryan has found one of the most feasible, successful and cautious approaches towards it. He has placed the monologues of this family, broken up and scattered during the second half of the 20th C, an ethnic mix of Bulgarians, Gypsies, Armenians, etc., a peripheral bunch of individuals, within the symmetry of the "talking" family tree. Unlike the play, its stage version begins with the monologue of the Grandfather (the Father Figure) Avram Tanurkov (Vasil Mihailov, who muffles away half of the text) and ends with the monologue of the Grandmother (the Mother Figure) Spasia . The director places each character in the clear contours of his/her individuality, carrying the imprint of experience along the road of personal biography. This approach, on the one hand, perhaps partly infringes on the metaphysical plane of the text, yet on the other hand succeeds in turning it into a spectacle with real-life people, giving the actors the rare opportunity to build vivid stage characters. This opportunity is best "utilized" by Meglena Karalambova (Spasia), Kamen Donev (Zarko) and Deyan Donkov (Lazar). The larger-than-life characterizing gestures (both intonational and physical) inherently carry the potential of "comedy". Along with it Krikor Azaryan has smuggled in more drama than tragedy. He treats the bruised people of Boyan Papazov with benevolence, affection and sadness. Which is some consolation at least - not only for them, but also for all of us, mumbling to our fleas.

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