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20 Jan 12

Postmodern theater, Albanians and Serbs

While the political relationship between Serbs and Albanians may be in rough waters, a recent theatre production shows that artistic cooperation between the two groups is flourishing.

Nemanja Cabric
BIRN Belgrade
Theatre show Patriotic Hypermarket, Bitef
A scene from the play Patriotic Hypermarket | Photo Courtesy of Kulturanova

In a region where walls built of prejudices divide us, can a play tackle the relationship between Serbs and Albanians?

"Patriotic Hypermarket", a play performed this week at the Bitef Theatre, does just that. Actors from Belgrade, Pristina, Skopje and Tirana perform together in a postmodernist play which deals with their common schizophrenic reality - that alone makes it a great success.

When I first heard about the Patriotic Hypermarket show, I wondered how all the ideas would fit together – politics, postmodern theatre, Albanians and Serbs. Would the art falter under the weight of tragic everyday stories of people that went through the hell of war?

How would postmodernist theatre, which tends towards the ambiguous, incorporate the political component of the play?

Now I had the chance to see for myself!

What I found is a proper postmodernist play, almost made by the rulebook – with sketches of characters deriving from a central theme: the relationship between Serbs and Albanians based on recent shared history – Tomahawks, murders, rapes, prejudice, and mutual stereotypes.

Their relationship is interpreted through various stories that hang from the frame of the central idea, and each is presented as a completely new spectacle.

The actors perform the stories in a variety of ways- from simple confessions followed by rhythmical whispering to real-life situations, poetry recitals, music and dance.

The twisted setting of the play is the chaotic world of the hypermarket. This is the frame I mentioned earlier.

Actors sing, run, throw shopping carts at each other, sit in them and shoot from them as if they were machine guns, shouting “ra-ta-ta-ta!”.

"Satisfied customers are the best compliment we can get,” one of the play's musicians says, and then drills out a shopping mall jingle. Then he takes his violin bow, turns on his guitar processors and joins another story, completely different from the last.

One could interpret this as a story in which people are treated as goods for sale in a world in which patriotism rules.

But that’s just my angle. Postmodernists would say that every viewer is an angle by himself.

It sure did bring back old, suppressed memories. The endless black humor jokes on the streets of Belgrade about the intelligence of Tomahawk missiles, the juicy curses of people imbued with nationalism and hatred, news articles with daily updates on people killed and buildings blown up.

The show captured almost all of these things, which unfortunately, belong to our common heritage.

The play's futuristic satire, which mocks and at the same time warns of the absence of dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo, sums up with a noisy and aggressive call to make this happen.

After the play ended on Tuesday night, the voices still echoed in my head: "We need to talk, we need to talk!"

I went back to my initial question then, as I do now, while writing: does art suffer when politics enters its world?

Go and see for yourself. You can’t expect me to tell you the secret- that’s what postmodernism is all about.

Patriotic Hypermarket will again be performed in Belgrade in the beginning of March.

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