Best of regional theater to play in Plzeň
21st theater festival has puppetry, politics and praise-worthy performances
Posted: September 4, 2013
The award winning play Gočár Theater looks at architects and architecture.
Some of the best recent plays from Central and Eastern Europe will be at the 21st International Theater Festival in Plzeň, west Bohemia. Most of the productions in the main section will have English supertitles, and the remaining handful will have printed synopses in English. The related workshops and side events are in Czech only.
The festival concentrates on the CEE region but also tries to reach out beyond that. Over the years, some 18 countries have been involved in the festival and this year Russia is sending a production.
"We take the best productions from the last season in the Czech Republic, and outstanding productions from [the rest of] the Visegrád Group of countries," festival producer Zdeněk Pánek told The Prague Post, referring to Poland, Hungary and Slovakia.
From a practical point of view, staging a theater festival is a lot harder than a film festival, Pánek said. "You don't just have to bring in a few DVDs and one or two guests. Whole sets and sometimes dozens of people need to come for each show," he added.
Where: Grand Theater and other venues, Plzeň, west Bohemia
When: Sept. 11-18
Tickets: up to 350 Kč
Choosing a production from outside the immediate area is one of the most difficult tasks. The festival organizers have to make sure that the show is good enough to justify the extra effort.
Russian shows are particularly expensive since trucks with sets have to travel long distances and the actors have to fly in, rather than spending days on the train, Pánek said. The Russian production will bebasically familiar to many audiences already. The State Theatre of Nations will stage a new version of Strindberg's Miss Julie, a play that was once banned for its racy plot. This new adaptation by Mikhail Durnyenkov transposes the action to modern-day Russia and updates the dialogue. Russian critics have praised both the acting by the leads and the occasional humor in the story. This play will also be in Prague at divadlo Hybernia on Sept. 17, but only in Russian.
There are also some classics among the Czech productions, and not all of them come from the famous Prague theaters. Hradec Králové-based Klicpera Theater's staging of Václav Havel's The Beggars Opera was praised by daily Hospodářské noviny as a "milestone" in how Havel's plays are staged because it preserved the spirit while taking a new approach that ignored some of the written stage directions.
Every theater festival has to have some Shakespeare somewhere, and this time the Bard's sonnets get a free-wheeling interpretation on the grounds of a brewery in Caberet Shakespeare by Prague's Studio Dámuza. Critic Vladimír Mikulka, writing in Svět a divadlo, praised its "over-the-top" staging and extravagant costumes.
Modern-day politics can be seen in Prague-based Studio of Heroes' production Day of the Oprichnik, a satire that looks at a Putinesque Russia in the future. Various critics have singled out actor Karel Dobrý for his intense performance.
One of the stranger productions is Gočár Theater, staged by Omnimusa. The play is a musical about architecture that relies on quotes from Gočár and other modern architects. Gočár designed the House of the Black Madonna in Prague's Old Town, as well as a church in the Vršovice neighborhood and several projects in Hradec Králové
The play won the Alfréd Radok award in 2012 for best music. Daily Lidové noviny said the play "restores one's faith in the creativity of local artists."
A production from Slovakia's Aréna Theater, Bratislava, looks at recent history with Holocaust, which also asks how much the event still resonates in modern life. "This strong production aims its reproaches not just at the past but at the present," Slovak daily Sme said. The Holocaust also figures into A Piece on Mother and the Fatherland, staged by Poland's Teatr Polski.
Communist-era politics is the subject of With or Without Hope, staged by Ostrava-based Aréna Chamber Theater (no relation to the similarly named Slovak troupe). The life of the widow of show-trial victim Rudolf Slanský is examined based on her memoirs. The production won high praise from Divadelní noviny, which said, "This is theater that scars the soul."
There's a lot more to choose from including an adaptation of the American play A Steady Rain with noted actor Richard Krajčo, puppetry and fairytale-inspired shows. The fun of a festival is often taking a chance on an unknown production.
The four plays that will have written summaries in place of English supertitles are Black Milk, Dašenka or Dog Tricks - Woof!, The Constant Prince and A Steady Rain.
Aside from the plays, there is a film in English: Ralph Fiennes version of Shakespeare's Coriolanus, one of the Bard's more obscure plays that is suddenly everywhere because its plot of political turmoil echoes with current events. A French-language version of Moliere will also play on the big screen.
The festival received significant financial help from both the Plzeň Region and the municipality, as well as the Polish Institute and private companies. In 2015 Plzeň will be designated by the EU as a Capital of Culture. The organizers are already planning an expanded theater festival for that year.
Raymond Johnston can be reached at