Review: Men of Wax

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The writer’s task

It seems like the writer gave himself the task of needing to write the best thing possible in order to leave a deep mark on our society. It’s an unbelievable combination of directing, acting, set design and written text which has been widely praised. It feels like at first nothing is more important than the screenplay itself, but the interpretation by the actors and the guidance by the director give it just the right accents. The performance flows well and it’s no problem at all to sit through the entire three hours plus intermission. There’s no room for boredom as the viewer is easily engaged in the three stories that connect the writer and musician played by Goran Grgić.

Janusz Kica normally insists on putting his directorial stamp on things, which is mostly good and correct, but somehow reminiscent of aesthetics that were popular in the eighties. This time he really surprised by using his skills as a director to deliberately place emphasis on the written text. He actually refrains from excessively using his artistic interpretation as director—which he is known to do—and lets the drama live and grow. The play seamlessly takes shape by being channeled through the text from scene to scene in a perfect whole.

Actors Slavko Juraga and Goran Grgić (Foto: HNK)

The crowning achievement is the text by Mate Matišić

This text creates the illusion that we pass along intimately with Mate Matišić. This is actually a clever and ironic distraction from his private life, as it were, after the writer adopted the twins of his late friend, the famous director Krsto Papić. The writer not only pokes fun at the media and plays with what is true and what is false, he creates the illusion of an intimate confession and ironizes current policy and also the topic of abortion. He examines Catholic upbringings and the influence of the Catholic Church on society in Croatia—yet stresses that he himself is a Catholic.

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Finally he asks himself: Who am I? It ends with a sort of psychoanalysis. It seems like the conclusion is that it’s really necessary to analyze ourselves and try to figure out our role in society. Also, when the play takes us to the village of Ričice, near Imotski, he ironically represents the suffering of the Croatian diaspora and economic migrants—not unlike his own parents who spent their working lives in Germany. Jozo, the character whose parents worked themselves to the bone in Germany in order to survive, is played by Bojan Navojec. Jozo tries to make a decent living by selling drugs throughout the village and running a smuggling operation across the border with Bosnia. At the same time, a politician shows up who wants to put up a barbed-wire fence and lay mines along the border because of his fears of an onslaught of Muslims from Bosnia.

Actor Luka Dragić (Foto: HNK)

It’s interesting that the power of the text springs precisely from the fact he depicts the situation as worse than in the Godfather films. And yet the village is innocent and naive. It’s a primitive small-minded environment set in a raw provincial area that accurately depicts our political and social reality. It is what it is, and it doesn’t matter how horrible it is, this is the way it needs to be. In fact, he shows just how strong he is as a writer by being able to shake, jolt and manipulate our emotions while watching the performance.

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All the while it’s clear and logical while we watch it because it deals with blood, violence, politics, war, crime, the sex industry, rape, trafficking, money, betrayal, responsibility, primitivism, the Catholic spirit and the Diaspora. All this is well designed and greatly illustrated—shakingly and pervasive. It keeps us full emotionally; not empty, like so many of today’s productions. The show keeps the tension high, plays with our emotions, and lends perfectly for an ensemble performance at the National Theatre in Zagreb. Finally we have a three hour-long performance that maintains a level of tension and where the intermission is used as a wise directorial intervention to separate the play’s conclusion; thereby placing the emphasis on the third and final act. It is then that the writer turns towards himself, and it is us who are left asking ourselves: Who we are?

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Goran Grgić is believable

This dramatic triptych connects Viktor, a screenwriter, by passing through three stories: The Groupie, The First Muslim in the Village, and Under the Wig. The form of the play is without major aesthetic excesses imposed by the director. The set design is not overly-done, although the Numen design studio and Ivana Jonke function as part of the cast, it’s not overly exotic nor emphasized. Costumes by Doris Kristić depict an ordinary world with ordinary people living ordinary lives. Nothing special. Somehow we’re taken back to the seventies and along the way we’re left with the idea of an ordinary life.

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Janusz Kica has done a good job bringing together these three stylistically different dramatic parts into a single developmental journey through the life of the former rocker. His mentality is basically sprung from our own mostly disjointed quest to dominate provincialism. And maybe that’s the vision of the director, who’s not from Croatia and therefore not used to the vision of Mate Matišić. But in the end the play got exactly what the dramatic text deserves: a special distinction. Goran Grgić played the passive writer impeccably for the entire three hours. Yet the appearance of passivity was all down to his skills as an actor to hold it all together. There was not a single moment of boredom when watching his performance because it was obvious he had completely given himself into his character. Everything he said was believable.

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Musical composition by Tamara Obrovac. The rest of the cast included: Ana Begić, Ksenija Marinković, Ivan Jončić, Slavko Juraga, Luka Dragić, Luka Dragić, Siniša Popović, Bojan Navojec, Ivan Glowatzky, Milan Pleština, Silvio Vovk, Kristijan Potočki, Alen Šalinović, Jelena Perčin, Alma Prica, Damir Markovina, Vanja Matujec, Iva Mihalić, Katija Zubčić, Barbara Vicković, Olga Pakalović, Ivana Boban, Dora Lipovčan.

Synopsis

The dramatic triptych Men of Wax is composed of three independent and stylistically distinct parts. The constant theme throughout the three is Viktor: a playwright, screenwriter, former rock guitarist and pop-rock star from the former Yugoslavia. In fact, he’s the mirror image of Mate Matišić: a dramatic writer and screenwriter, as well as the former guitarist and star of Yugoslavia’s rock band Prva ljubav.

The first part, titled The Groupie, Viktor is unexpectedly confronted with his own distant past. He discovers that he shares more than just memories with a forgotten fan from his rock days; which compromises his normal big-city life today.

The second part, titled The first Muslim in the Village, Victor returns to his home village of Ričice, in the Dalmatian hinterland, where the fate of one disillusioned former soldier inspires him to write a play.

 In the final act, titled Under the Wig, Viktor and his wife agree to adopt a child whose mother is dying of cancer. This decision will unexpectedly debunk repressed conflicts that Viktor carries within himself.

Upcoming performances on January 20th and 26th.