World Premiere of ‘The Garage’ by Zagreb Youth Theatre of Croatia

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The Garage. (LR): Vedran Zivolic, Goran Bogdan, Nina Violic, Frano Maskovic. Photo by Mara Bratos.

The play, directed by Ivica Buljan, is based on the popular contemporary Croatian novel of the same name by Zdenko Mesarić, which has been described as “moving, dark, cold, Sisyphean.” The play will be performed in English and a boxing ring will be set up center-stage. There will be live music by Croatia’s most popular hip-hop band and spectacular physical theater. There are eleven actors and six musicians.

Zagreb Youth Theatre (ZYT), one of the oldest theaters of its kind, is located at Teslina 7 in central Zagreb. “Youth” in its name is partly an odd translation from Communist times. In this context, it means “young” art forms, i.e. innovative. But there is another meaning: the ensemble has had equal success with children’s plays and highly artistic performances of Croatian and world literature. It is considered the cradle of Croatian theater, since many generations of Croatian theater artists and other cultural leaders have come through its Youth Studio, which is now known as ZYT College. The ensemble’s major works include adaptations of such classics of world literature as “Anna Karenina,” “Medea,” “The Great Gatsby” and “Gulliver’s Travels,” all staged by Croatian directors. In the last four years, ZYT has received 50 awards in international theater festivals in Brussels, Berlin, Freiburg, Nitra, Moscow, Heidelberg, Wiesbaden, Pitzen, Varna, Helsinki, Beograd, Skopje, Ljubljana and more. ZYT collaborated with the theatre of Jan Fabre in “Requiem for a Metamorphosis,” which was presented at the Salzburg Festival in 2007, and “Another Sleepy Dusty Delta Day,” which was the opening production of the Avignon Festival in 2008. ZYT is a participant in The Orient Express Theatre Project, which brings together theaters from Turkey, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia and Germany to create a traveling theater laboratory that questions identity and explores concepts of “the other” and “the different” in countries of southeastern Europe, where East meets West.

“The Garage” is a skillful concoction of genres, mixing science fiction and martial arts film with family drama and film noir. While it can stand comparison to cult movies like “Rollerball,” “Fight Club” or “Amores Perros,” its metaphorical subtext remains anchored in the post-communist horror of modern transition economies. The production merges outright violence with family scenes laden with biblical references and surrealist sequences exploring the volatile subject of euthanasia tourism.

In the play, a ten-year-old boy named Binat lives in a remote dystopian settlement set in a picture-postcard landscape. His father is violent; his mother gravely ill. The father initiates the boy into the world of bloody gladiator-style fighting tournaments at the Garage, a makeshift arena managed by the Bookie and his paramour, The Muscular Blonde. Binat’s career in ultimate fighting should be a way out of poverty for his small family. Meanwhile, at the settlement, the authorities are keenly promoting a pilot project of a tourist resort specializing in euthanasia tourism, where the dying, flocking from all around the world, can enjoy the benefits of state-of-the-art assisted-suicide packages.

Apart from his diabetic mother and alcoholic father, Binat’s only human contact is with The Priest. The Mother tells the boy he had once been in love with her and tried to violate her. In a fit of jealous rage, the boy’s father cut off the man’s ear, whereupon the latter took holy orders and committed his life to the Church.

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The Garage (LR): Vedran Zivolic, Frano Maskovic, Nina Violic, Goran Bogdan. Photo by Mara Bratos.

Based on what might well be the most shocking novel published in Croatia in the recent years, the play evokes themes-euthanasia tourism, gladiator fighting, family violence, child exploitation, social petrifaction and neglect-that trace a striking outline of an unnerving near future. The director, Ivica Buljan explores the spaces of violence and despair, the world of transition that has lost sense of moral and social values and has resorted to wild capital and sadistic exploitation. Stunning physical theater infuses hard-rock energy into powerfully visual, intimate and erotic scenes.

“The Garage” features live performances by The Beat Fleet, Croatia’s foremost hip-hop band. Sets have been designed by the conceptual artist Slaven Tolj. Costume designer is Ana Savi Gecan. The actors are Ksenija Marinkovic, Doris Saric Kukuljica, Nina Vioilic, Barbara Prpic, Sreten Mokrovic, Frano Maskovic, Vedran Zivolic, Gordan Bogan, Sasa Antic and Mladen Badovinac.

Director Ivica Buljan, born in 1965 in Croatia, has directed about thirty plays in Slovenia, Lithuania, France, Belgium, Russia, Montenegro, Italy, Ivory Coast and Croatia. He has had works presented in international theater festivals in France, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Turkey, Venezuela, Austria, Greece, Macedonia, Belgium, Switzerland, Russia, Great Britain, Bulgaria, France, Iran, Poland, Slovakia, Cuba and Albania. He is deeply interested in modernist dramatists and authors such as Marina Tsvetaeva, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Heiner Mueller, Robert Walser, Elfriede Jelinek, Miroslav Krleza and Botho Strauss. Bernard-Marie Koltes is in the center of his authorial interest.

He was director of the Croatian National Drama Theatre in Split from 1998 to 2002 and was co-founder of the Mini Theater in Ljubljana. He is also the co-founder and artistic director of World Theatre Festival in Zagreb. He is a professor in the National Theatre schools in Saint Etienne and Rennes in France and has been a guest professor at Academie experimentalle des theatres in Paris, Brussels and Moscow. His awards include the Dubravko Djusin Award (1997), the Petar Brečić Award (1999), the Peristil Award (2001, for “Oedipus”), the Borstnik Diploma and a Special Award from the Jury (2004), Grand Prix of Tempus Art festival (2004), the Medal of the City of Havana (2005), Golden Lion for the best performances (“Hamlet” 2006, “The Princesse’s Drame,” 2007), the Borstnik Award for the best Slovenian performance (“Oedipus,” 2007; “Macbeth,” 2009) and the Sterija Award for the best performance (“Oedipus,” 2008).

The show will be held in the Ellen Stewart Theater of La MaMa E.T.C., located at 74A East Fourth Street in Manhattan, between Second Avenue and Bowery. Show times are Thursdays – Saturdays at 7:30 PM and Sundays at 2:30 PM. Tickets are $25 for general admission and $20 for Students/Seniors. Tickets are available through the box office at (212) 475-7710 or online at www.lamama.org.