Belarusian theatre hibernated since the notorious events of 2020. The artistic quality of most of the state theatres’ performances is quite low, while most of the independent theatre companies were forced to leave the country. So it’s clear that topical social issues went “under the radar”.
Belarusian theatres aren’t common to touch upon topics of discrimination. No state theatre put such topics on a map, while most independent theatre companies are focused either on post-semiotic concepts or the marginal “new drama”. And while no play about gerontophobia, ableism, or racism issues is being staged in Belarus, feminist plays appear on the Belarusian stage once in a while. There are Belarusian feminist plays that reveal issues of the man-ish society’s bad habits, there are plays that try to discriminate against men. The least isn’t always a bad thing, since if the rhetoric of these plays reflects the men-women status quo swapping the roles, it appears to be a portion of great food for mind for the male part of the audience. However, a few of the Belarusian plays did it well, while the plays which reveal the man-ruled world’s bad habits are almost gone.
Fortunately, on October 5 Kryly Halopa theatre from Brest presented Frau mit Automat play on Brama Grodzka’s stage. This play is a manifestation of women’s right to be themselves. The Frau mit Automat play consists of four acts, which could be named as a wife, a mother, a victim, and the lady with a machine gun.
The performance begins with a story, which moves from the grotesque narration of “proper wife” duties to real examples of men, who impose their opinion on how a woman should look, speak, and act. Despite several moments when men’s behavior stereotypes are emphasized too much, Oksana shows a topical story of a post-soviet era woman, who’s under pressure all the time.
The second act, filled with numerous visuals refers to the Virgin Mary image, tells almost the same type of story, as in Act I. The mother is told how to take care of a newborn baby, to bring up a child, that becoming a mother means scarifying her ambitions and dreams, and so on. The act ends with the school headmaster’s words about what is meant to be “a proper parent” for a “proper child”, who doesn’t stand out from the crowd.
The third act refers to a TV talk show, where the guest tells her story of growing up in the early post-soviet years and becoming the victim of a rapist. After the “TV show” part, Oksana’s character reveals the ugly truth of the common social modus vivendi, when the victim is told that it was the victim’s own fault and that not only women suffer from excessive control and psychological violence.
The final fourth act is built around the figure of Frau mit Automat (german “Woman with a machine gun”) – a female nazi slayer ghost. The fourth act draws clear parallels of the WW2 and 2020 realities, comparing diaries of nazi concentration camps prisoners with the letters from detention centers.
The great thing about Oksana Haiko’s play is its straightforwardness. This unflashy staging shows a hot topic from several perspectives. No matter how hard a wife tries, everything is never enough. No matter how good a mother you are, the environment would always tell how you should bring up your children. No matter how deep are the psychological wounds after becoming a victim, society tends to sympathize with the assaulter, then a victim. And last but not least, Act 4 shows a story which could be concluded with famous Thucydides saying that the story is forced to repeat itself since nobody learns its lessons.
Fans of Kryly Halopa would note that the theatre is one of a few Belarusian troupes, who covered topical issues in their performances. Sadly, KH theatre is unable to play in Belarus, but the work of Oksana Haiko is still extremely important for Belarusian theatre.