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About the Spiral of Time and the Light behind it

59th season of the Youth Theatre

Like many artists today, we are faced with a challenge – how to talk about the human and humanitarian consequences (which are still difficult to measure) of Russia’s war against Ukraine, which has been going on for more than eighteen months? Last season’s productions of foreign directors Sergej Loznica and Arpad Schilling, Erinias and Barbarians, were an attempt to do this in a wider historical perspective, expressing the theatre’s social position. The first premiere of the new – 59th – season of the Youth Theatre, the play Ubu the Tsar, directed by Gintaras Varnas, will address the subject in a different artistic register.

At the end of the 19th century, 20-year-old Alfred Jarry, a hooligan of the French artistic avant-garde, created a portrait of the belligerent idiot Ubu. Like no other, he became a harbinger of the era of narcissistic dictators of the 20th century. Ubu’s buffoonery is like the wrong side of the reality of revolutions and wars caused by dictators, the main characters of which sought not to change the world, but to consolidate their personality cult. It all ended, like described by Jarry in his Ubu plays, in a big fiasco. Only with countless losses of human life. Today we say that history has taught us nothing. Quite the opposite, its falsification has inspired wars in the 21st century. Dictators of modern times differ from their predecessors only in that they have turned lies and falsification of facts into the main state ideology and used it to brainwash millions of people.

After witnessing Ukraine’s heroic resistance to the Russian military machine, the civilized world hastened to provide military and humanitarian aid to Ukrainian people. But not too big, so that they don’t go wild and beat the Russians cold. And since the enthusiasm for the quick counterattack victory of the Ukrainian military forces has decreased and the US and Europe began to have opportunistic sentiments, the West is looking for answers to the question: how to stop the spiral of war? Maybe leave some of the Russian-occupied territories to Russia in exchange for the security of Ukraine?

“The only way to deal with Putin is by completely ignoring his so-called impression management, when he puffs out his cheeks and portrays himself as great and terrible, and many leaders of the West, unfortunately, help to create the image of the great and terrible Goodwin-Putin. He is not like that at all, he is a primitive mobster who remained a “bitch” even though he found himself in the position of the “don”, says University of New Jersey professor Sergey Erofeev. When will the world’s leaders not only understand the mentality of this “bitch”, but also gain enough political will to adequately fight it?

In the drawing of Ubu made by Jarry himself, his enormous belly has a huge spiral on it. Not only does is it a reflection of Ubu’s character, it is also a metaphor for the naïve and peaceful time not yet marked by the cataclysms of the 20th century. Today, this spiral could become a symbol for historical time, leading the viewer’s gaze somewhere into the abyss, disappearing into infinity. But it should remain a game open to laughter.

During the struggle for independence, the performances of the “Šėpa“ Theater created by Gintaras Varnas left no one indifferent. The nerve of time pulsated in them. Today, the director is determined to revive the theatre in order to talk about the present time. According to Varnas, his new performance Ubu the Tsar with the subheading “Šėpa of the 21st Century” “should be funny, but hardly fun”. The two stylistic “foundations” of the play consist of the world of Ubu, where Ubu-Putin lives, mucks about, screams, barks and sings with his gang, and the “Šėpa” theater-closet, which will accommodate our “World” and its puppets from Macron and Orbán to Scholz, Biden and Zelensky. The West, whose mercantile and hypocritical relationship with the new Russian tsar has allowed him to thrive, to feel equal among equals and even to start military conflicts.

In this world, “we, the free people, the free world, are proud of our values, and will defend them, but we’d rather not have to…”

A successful film director Ignas Jonynas made his debut at the Youth Theater three decades ago and initially had a successful theatrical career. After a long time, the director will return to the theatre to work on his newest production – The Son based on the play by contemporary French playwright Florian Zeller. The Son is the last part of the dramatic trilogy that made Zeller famous (the other two – The Father and The Mother). Like Ibsen, the playwright delves into family problems, relating them to the psychological traumas of modern man, which are often concealed because they do not meet the success standards of society.

According to I. Jonynas, “the main character of The Son is not the teenager Nicolas, around whom the entire plot of the play revolves, but his father Pierre. Following his divorce from Nicolas’ mother, Pierre creates a new family, and it is he who experiences the biggest challenge. Being in denial of the spiritual illness of his son, Pierre tries his best to save Nicolas, but in the end he gets confused in his own life… The parents’ love for their son not supported by the ability to understand him leads to a tragic end. According to Jonynas, “like the play’s protagonist, Pierre, we often tend to say: “you will be fine”, “things will work out.” What will? Our genetic code? Life? Troubled relationships? The future? All these questions fatally loom over the play’s characters, and it is then that the thematic axis is formed – how by seeking happiness, we tend to bring misery to the lives of our loved ones as well as our own life. How the routine of daily relationships bears fatalism, which inevitably affects our lives. How imperceptibly anxiety, depression, despair, instability creep inside us.

The Youth Theater continues the residence platform for artistic experiments BLACK BOX aimed to help young artists establish themselves in professional theatre. In November, composer Arturas Bumšteinas, who has been in residence at the Youth Theatre for a few years, will present a new premiere. Two directors, Justinas Vinciūnas and Jonas Kuprevičius, who graduated from LMTA this year and just made a memorable debut, will start their residence in September. J. Vinciūnas’ graduate work Dust, released at the Youth Theater at the end of last season, has already visited the famous Thalia Theater in Hamburg.

Eimuntas Nekrošius directed his last play at the Warsaw National Theatre. The production of a “pearl” of post-war Polish dramaturgy, Witold Gombrowicz’s play The Marriage premiered in June 2018. In November of the same year, Nekrošius passed away. This year, in November, the Warsaw National Theatre will bring The Marriage to the Youth Theatre, where the director began his creative path, and here will bid farewell to this work of his.

The Marriage by W. Gombrowicz is a strange, mysterious play that raises more questions than it gives answers. Through the fate of one family, it tells a story of a person’s identity and freedom of choice in relation to other people. It also explores the fundamental relationships between the son, father, and mother. Although The Marriage has many allusions to W. Shakespeare’s Hamlet, W. Gombrowicz has a very different understanding of tragedy – he sees it in daily life. What seems to be mundane becomes fatal for the main character of the play – young Henryk, whose marriage turns into a funeral banquet… In his last work, E. Nekrošius seems to intuitively summarize the human questions that were fundamental in his oeuvre, and he does it easily, with a humour uncharacteristic of the director’s previous productions. In his late work, E. Nekrošius never put a full stop. He would leave the finale of the performances open, hopeful. Even though The Marriage is a fatalistic play, there’s light in E. Nekrošius’ performance. And such light is badly missed nowadays…

Audronis Liuga, Head of the Youth Theatre