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Profile Fragile!

The old heart of darkness

by Tomo Mirko Pavlovic

To Western Europe, the Balkans are the same as what the seventh room was to Bluebeard's wives: an incredible temptation. Someone curiously gazes at the locked door, behind which presumably a dreadfully wonderful secret is hidden. The golden key finally reveals a terrible, blood stained chamber, a windowless nightmare beyond any logic and without past or future. There is no explanation as to what has happened here. Whoever walks into this other forbidden room is lost and scarred for life. If against all odds someone should return to the light, shadows will haunt him and he will stay as stained as the key with which he tried to unlock the world.

Tena Štivičić intentionally chooses evil darkness for the first scene in her play "Fragile!". It is an underground room, as is given in the stage directions, "one of those bars in a cellar that is never properly aired". Michi, the Bulgarian owner of this stuffy drinking hole, once intended to make this nightclub in the centre of London "the navel of the wandering Eastern European soul".

In Michi's zone of fate
However, Michi's club – the other room, is meanwhile a soulless meeting point for the failed expatriates where breakable glass, mirrors and women have to be hard-wearing when the Balkan blues start filling the hearts. Good looking women like for example Mila, who dreams of being a musical star whilst leaning her well-shaped bottom into the guest working faces of half of the East as a bar girl. Or Marko, who pictures himself as a successful comedian and for the time being, mixes Bloody Marys in Michi's bar.

At some point Gayle from New Zealand shows up. She is a talented after worktime artist and supposedly a goody two-shoes, who is anticipating her creative break through and in search of an authentic environment and source of inspiration. While she is searching she likes to work with traumatised refugees like Tiasha who is a lost soul and wanders through European brothels as a messed-up Bosnian rape victim. She finally finds Eric in London, who is a Norwegian war correspondent and with whom she had an affair with in the war many years ago. Erik however would rather forget the time when he could still feel; in the meantime he has become a cynical media person who works for the principle of money and likes to sniff coke and sleep with Mila. The circle closes in Michi's zone of fate.

Dark luring Balkans
When Croatian author Tena Štivičić won two prizes at the Heidelberg play market two years ago, the juror and artistic director of the Theatre of Erlangen Sabine Dhein congratulated her with these words: "It is a different, shockingly new view on the youngest story of Europe, which suddenly seems so small, crowded and assessable and in which nationalities dissolve (...). By dealing with the other they try to find and sense and sense each other – regardless of what kind of passports they have in their bags. 'Fragile' is about being foreign, about the search of a home in a foreign city (...)".

There is but little to add to this: One can definitely survey "Fragile!" from a meanwhile well-known Eurocentric point of view and sense the small Eastern victims who are in search of warmth everywhere. One can also see the nationalities and illusions puff out and interpret the short trip to the dark luring Balkans (Michi's underground hole) as a nightmarish trip to Bluebeard's wives and the seventh room.

The 32-year old author, who is living in London at the moment, eventually approved of the stereotypical storyline: a fairy tale without a happy end in which the unknown is always understood as exoticism. It is as if she has constructed the politically correct play especially for Western Europe: All characters seem innocent at first; their biographies, which are never told (they therefore seem so sad) correspond to the audience's vague horizon of experience. In all six cases dreams crash into reality. Tiasha has to play the role of an ephemeral sleepwalker, in which physical-psychological suffering is expressed with lyrical outbursts. London is degraded to a code for homelessness, a place of dissolution in which an invisible yet nevertheless terrible civil war on money and advancement is raging.

A shared flat as miniature utopia
But "Fragile!" is much more than an open surgery on the old heart of darkness. The second storyline reveals the striking ambivalence of the characters. In this variation the suppressed identities play hidden main roles. Štivičić uses a second, less bold location than Michi's drinking hole: Marko and Mila's flat. The apparently unassuming bohemian flat in the foreign city serves as a miniature utopia and creates an absurd subsidence of the writer from Zagreb: Marko, son of a wartime profiteer, is Serbian, Mila is Croatian. Both are in their late twenties and "recognise" each other from the beginning, speak the same language, love the same Turkish mocha. However there is no approach that goes beyond the bodiless marriage of convenience, due to the repressive ideologies of the unaware representatives.

Štivičić's strong motive of the shared flat can be understood as a poetic-political analysis of the post-Yugoslavian coexistence of the countries. Mila (Croatia) prostitutes herself for all she's worth in the turbo-capitalistic West, as a semi-flexible artist, adapts, and advises Marko to loose his accent as quickly as possible, so that he doesn't get "stuck in their community". Marko however wants to act as the clown, as the comedian who turns the West into ridicule – a popular stereotype of Serbian self-image.

Symbolic references
No-man's-land remains invincible, guarded by vague fears: Just like in Homi K. Bhabhas "Anxiety"-concept of the third space. The other psychological connotations are distributed evenly in the accurate dialogues, which unfold their effect like in an elegant symbolist novella: Marko for example carries the name of a popular fictional hero of national Serbian epics ("Marko Kraljevic"), who saves them from humiliation by the Ottomans. In the seventh scene Marko finally protects Mila, who has a serious argument with Erik. But he still bows to Michi's "commands" and makes Bloody Marys, which sounds cynical if one knows that the Catholic Croatians see themselves as Mary's people.

One could easily continue naming ascriptions that take away the profound and at the same time all too predictable psychology of the characters. "Fragile!" is prime example of a complex play with hidden sarcasm, that cleverly plays off the simple Freudian against the deconstructive literary scholar time and time again. It works well when read, but on stage? There is a great danger of this lucid piece of literature being interpreted as a simple Balkans blues, as an old seventh room containing some rather messed up migrants with a lot of hang ups.

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