Translation: Karolína Průšová
One apartment during the pandemic and a visitor to order. On Friday, the students of the international Authorial Acting Program at Department of Authorial Creativity and Pedagogy at DAMU staged a production of their own text The Visitor. The authors of the dystopian drama are Natali Spasova and Viktor Buzharov, who also performs in the show. The production is based mainly on the gradual unveiling of the story and the fictional world, which is not so far from our reality.
The apartment in question is rendered very sparingly – a table, chairs, and the empty space of Studio Řetízek with its door in the back wall. There is a woman sitting on the table in a simple white dress – Lisa (Aleksandra Ziółkowska) – and with her back is a female figure in a black dress with a painted black mask (Mariale Carranza). As Lisa stands up and moves around the space, the dark figure mirrors her movements. Then there is a knock – a visitor enters through the back door – Dominic (Viktor Buzharov) in a pure white shirt, a satchel slung over his shoulder. First, he completes the formality by scanning the code from Lisa’s mobile phone – the all-too-familiar proof of infection-free status that lets us know we’re in a hard lockdown. When all is well, he suddenly starts to greet Lisa as his sister, they hug, talk like siblings. Lisa reaches for her phone, Dominic’s beeps, and the siblings turn into two lovers. Another notification, the visitor is suddenly a friend of Lisa’s, giving her a manicure over wine.
So, who is the visitor? Is it still the same person? Or are they different people who are hardly distinguishable in terms of acting? The initial confusion gradually clears up during the performance. Trying to understand how the world shown works is the main thing that holds my attention. The creators present a dystopia in which people can order a universal visitor, to whom they send instructions in advance who to play and what type of interpersonal contact to convey to them.
The chronological plot has two lines. The scenes between Lisa and Dominic alternate with movement interludes in which Lisa interacts with a female character in a black dress. In these scenes, which are visually removed from the rest of the action by illumination in red light, the two women struggle with each other, the other character smearing Lisa with black paint. It is a kind of Lisa’s shadow, the darkness of her mind, or an evil alter-ego that Lisa tries to defeat. The shadow is then ever-present on stage during the other scenes, although it is not the focus of attention and only moves subtly around the walls. It remains in the background – like an inner solitude that is hard to shake off, only to be cornered for a while by the distraction of ordered company. The movement scenes with the alter-ego formally add an otherwise purely dramatic form with psychologically conceived characters and realistic acting.
Ordered company is not enough, however, and Lisa longs for real human contact and tries to get to know the visitor himself – who he is when he has no prescribed script. In the scenes in which she tries to force him to say anything honest, Dominic for the first time becomes a character with a hint of a complicated inner world, which he hides fiercely for fear of violating the employer’s rules. So, what is he in danger of? How dystopian a society are we in? That remains a mystery, one that the open ending doesn’t quite answer, but it does offer multiple possibilities of interpretation, all of which are rather chilling.
On the other hand, the aforementioned movement interludes lag behind the story line of the relationship with Dominik and seem to only illustrate Lisa’s psychological state. It seems too descriptive when Lisa triumphs over the darkness just at the moment when it seems that she has managed to get through to Dominic’s real personality and persuade him to move in with her. But when that happy ending turns out not to work, the character in the black dress returns and embraces Lisa in the final image.
The most interesting thing about the whole production is the plot itself, which may resemble fictions exploring the impact of various technological possibilities on individuals, which are developed by series such as Black Mirror. Unfortunately, the production stops at the story level, and there is no more overlap or more general statement about human loneliness, or perhaps the impact of anonymizing technologies and the market that wants to monetize even any form of human contact.
Theatre Faculty of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague – Natali Spasova and Viktor Buzharov: The Visitor. Directed by Natali Spasova, dramaturgy by Natali Spasova & Viktor Buzharov, music by Emilija Ducks, choreography by Mariale Carranza. Written from the performance on 10 June at DAMU as part of the Zlomvaz festival.