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  • Jerome Kocher

52. Theater Fest in Prizren

I’ve been looking for live theater, but without luck, until Prizren, the former capital and older Ottoman center of culture and trade. This week is Prizren Fest with multiple venues in the cool of the evening. Last night I had three options and was unsure. But serendipity (another name for my angel) led me to a side alley that I had not explored but had seen people enter . . . and exit. Apparently it was a cul-de-sac, but for me it became a thoroughfare directly to what I was looking for - theater in a small intimate outdoor space.

It was still late afternoon, but the director was there. So we talked. The play was “Father and Father” with three characters of father, mother and daughter, taking place in their living room represented by one iconic household item, a foot pedal sewing machine. As with all good theater this central and only item, other than chairs, became the motif for the family. Everything just went on as before, round and round, a daily survival, working and looking for more work.

The daughter seemed estranged from the father, rarely addressing him. The mother was the glue, the intermediary holding them together. The father was frustrated in his search for a job because his paperwork was not in order. His passport had expired. His wife gave him pills for his chest pain but they always fell through his hand to the floor.

I was able to follow this Albanian language play because there were English subtitles projected above the living room set. But halfway through I finally became aware that the father character was not alive, in fact dead, and his memory was kept alive through the mother’s constant conversation “with the past.” The father had gone missing during the recent war. For psychological survival the mother still held him close out of love, out of the fear of loneliness. The daughter realized all this, but kept the “family secret” by not addressing it with her mother . . . until the daughter decides to leave for university, to recreate her life anew.

Several of the festival plays had this theme of a traumatized society trying to find stable ground to move on. Anyone born in 1998 or after seemed to be free of this emotional fault line running through Kosovo. Before the play, a young woman sitting next to me and knowing the theme, said she came to this play hoping that it did not wallow in grief of the past but could look at the war with . . . and she struggled to find the English expression . . . some critical thinking.

Previously, in talking with older Kosovo adults about their children, their kids sounded like my high school students. Anything that happened before 2000, before they were born, was pretty much ancient history. On one hand, that’s a way to move on from the past. On the other hand if your life has been broken, how do you make yourself understood to a younger generation that did not, thank God, experience the ravages of war. I return to the image of a fault line through society, a rift or chasm that may only go away . . . if you haven’t seen it or don’t feel it.

The Prizren Fest has its share of youthful experiential theater and dance, but there were also classics of Euripides or Dostoevsky that were recast in a contemporary Kosovo mindset. Reframing the Past seems to be the message. Just as in physical evolution, gestating forms may repeat earlier forms before arriving at a human birth, so socially, we need to reframe our past, not forget it, before we can become fully human.

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Jul 27, 2023

Another fascinating look at this interesting culture!

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