The Taste of Bitterness

Every century has its own unanswered questions. One of the most important questions of the 21st century is immigration. Philosophers, officials, artists, and intellectuals have their own answers to this question. The International Theatre Festival for Young Audiences presents to Iasi’s audience two points of view on the problem of active immigration from Romania. Two performances uncover this issue and try to come up with a solution.

In Ioan Brancu’s The Alien Who Wanted a Pyjamas as a Souvenir three little children live with their grumpy but affectionate grandmother in Romania while their parents work in Italy. At first glance, there are no obvious problems with this arrangement. Children in funny pyjamas (played by adults but show real children’s reactions and manners) call their mom on WhatsApp three times a day. They receive tons of boxes with gifts that keep appearing from the depths of an almost empty stage. Children know for sure that their parents will come back for them and take them to their new home soon. However, nobody knows when this “soon” will happen. The boxes stay unopened, and the calls become less sufficient. As their grandmother’s love cannot replace even one-minute conversation with their mother, so the children’s unhappy present will never be redeemed by the promises of the better future.

Another performance dealing with the questions of immigration is Catinca Draganescu’s Ready to Export based on an autobiographical play by Alex Tocilescu. The director gave the main character his own name. Throughout the performance this half-imagined Tocilescu experiences both hope and disenchantment as his dream of living abroad does not correspond to the grim realities of an immigrant’s life. The director places his characters in a black space that only has a yellow border and two words that occasionally light up: IMPORT and EXPORT. This is not just a border between countries, but it is also a wall between the apartments of block of flat, of which the namesake main character declares himself.

The Tocilescu-writer uses a powerful and simple metaphor: the houses for the whole country. The Tocilescu-President does not let his citizens-residents (played by only three people who change their roles on the spot) out of the house even for a doctor’s appointment. The author sees in the departure the collapse of the house where the change of the foundation is much more needed than the cosmetic repairs. The parents of the abandoned children are just interested in the outward good. Perhaps they are worried about their children’s future, but they don’t seem to understand or care enough about how the separation might affect them. Numerous gifts, no matter how expensive, will not replace the parents’ affection and warmth. It works as a cosmetic repair too. The “family” building can collapse at any time without the foundation of love. Despite the acute and complex issue the directors of both spectacles manage to maintain a balance between philosophical reflections and entertainment. The young audience is entertained by the music and magic in The Alien Who Wanted a Pyjamas as a Souvenir. Adults get a big dose of humor from Ready to Export. Music, magic and humor keep the viewer’s attention throughout these difficult but important performances.

Theoretically we know that the grass is always greener on the other side of fence. Practically we usually do not understand that it might be due to the good care of the soil and regular watering. It depends on what fertilizers you choose. Eating grass from other side of fence will not make your life tastier, because you never know how it will turn out to be. The grass from the other side might become so bitter that the taste of bitterness would remain in the mouth forever.

Antonina Shevchenko

(Participant, Workshop for young critics)

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