Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Reflections on Dragan Jovanovic’ WELCOME TO SERBIA, live at the Zvezdara Theatre in Belgrade

Like the hero with a thousand faces, Dragan Jovanovich - a charming and energetic fellow and Serbia’s most noted comic actor - transforms from dusty professor to country bumpkin to soccer hooligan, and presents a kaleidoscope of brave Serbian self-mockery.
     “Welcome to Serbia,” he cheers, and shows in an endearing string of sketches, clips and songs the underbelly of the Serbian national feel.

It’s a Monday evening and the Zvezdara theatre in Belgrade is crammed to the rafters. All roar with laughter as Dragan Jovanovic turns into Tito and six budding belle’s hail him like a Beatle, or Einstein who swipes the formulas of his Serbian wife, Mileva Marić, and bikes off to academic glory. He shows silly superstitions that still govern the Serbian country side (all laugh), and immediately after, the madness of believing the demagogues that have ruined this country (laughter again, but darker, more quiet).

One of several running gags revolves around Dragan’s kum. In Serbia everyone has a kum (godfather) and kuma (godmother), who originally serve as witnesses to a person’s baptism but will remain lifelong protectors. The relationship with the kum(a) is the most sacred relationship outside the family or marital realm.

During the finale of the play Dragan’s kum raises an arsenal of guns and shoots Dragan in every possible way. Dragan, flopping about the stage like a dying fish, then screams, “Now I refuse to die simply to spite you!” The curtain closes while Dragan’s dying pose slowly transforms into an obscene gesture. The crowd stands on their feet and toll a standing ovation. I stand too, and clap mesmerized.

Backstage is an open lounge with a bar and soft, square couches. The walls are covered with posters of famous plays. The Tito-hailing girls are hoisting Jelen beers, locked with their boyfriends in tensed poses. The star emerges. I ask him if he speaks English.
     “How can you watch my play if you don’t speak Serbian?” says Dragan Jovanovic.
     “It’s a bit like watching a soccer match, with the goals just out of sight,” I explain, “I recognize the dynamics from what I see, and the crowd’s reactions tell me if there’s a goal scored.”
     “I see,” he says.
     “What was your motivation to write this play?”
He’s been at this show for years. I’m not the first who asks this question. But perhaps I’m the first Dutchman who does. At some point in the show the flags of the NATO nations flashed by. The flag of the Netherlands was projected extra large and lingered extra long. Because who could have expected those nice Dutch… (laughter).
     “It gives me great pleasure to show my people that we’re not as perfect as we sometimes think,” he says.
     “It looks like you did a fine job.”
     “It’s good to look in a mirror every now and then,” says one of the girls. She can’t be more than twenty years old, and in her eyes I see that same glow I’ve seen in so many young Serbs on my short stay here. The economical situation in Serbia is grim at best. Wages are low, unemployment is rampant and an air of morose impatience prevails everywhere. This girl lives in a world that has inherited Tito’s party bill and Milosevic’ bad international rap, but what I have found uniquely in Serbia is an undeterred spirit of hope; a strong belief that they’re on the eve of some Great Awakening that will bring honor and wealth back to the Balkans.

Dragan thanks me for my interest. The girl takes her coat off the rack, walks towards the exit and halts at the full length mirror near the door. She strokes her hair, corrects her make up, takes a deep breath and enters the windy world with lengthy strides and her head held high.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...