Sin, Serbia and Cynical Humour are on offer at Prague Fringe this year in JL Production’s Lonesome Balkan. The Martin McDonagh-inspired, religion-pondering piece arrives from the pages of Writer-Dramaturg Vanja Šević. We sat down with Vanja to talk all things repentance, religion and repulsion, as well as dark comedy, Balkan traditions and Rakija. Join us for a pixelated pilsner in this all-encompassing interview.
Catch Lonesome Balkan at Divadlo Inspirace between the 25th and 27th May as part of Prague Fringe (times vary by day). Tickets are available through the Prague Fringe Box Office.
Jake: Hi Vanja! So ‘Lonesome Balkan’ focuses on the idea of sin – tell us about the philosophy of sin in the play, and what it has to say about it.
Vanja: When talking about our play, we like to start off with a sentence we insisted on in the process of creating “Lonesome Balkan”: what happens when a sin is so big it can’t be repented? This is the story of two brothers that have decided to come clean with each other after their father’s death. In doing so, they will uncover a lot of secrets from their past and present, and will be put in a position to either forgive each other, or settle it in a not so peaceful way. The theme of christianity, specifically Orthodox, is present in this play and is continually hovering over our characters, reminding them of the simple truth – you will not go to heaven if you have sinned too much. The play starts off with one of the brothers being a dogmatic Christian obsessed with collecting icons, and the other one being repulsed by religion represented by their abusive father, who was a priest. During the play, both of these standpoints will be questioned, up untill the moment in which both brothers will realise the harm they brought upon each other. Yes, they have sinned too much. What happens now? The rest of the play will give you an answer to that.
Jake: The show takes motifs from Martin McDonagh’s ‘The Lonesome West’ and roots them in Serbia and the Balkans – what brought the two together for you and what makes this piece specifically ‘Balkan’?
Vanja: Upon reading McDonagh’s “The Lonesome West”, we came to the realization that Irish and Serbian people are very much alike. This is in some hand expected, considering that both countries went through a lot of wars, liberation, sieges and have suffered a significant amount throughout history. Exactly that’s why Irish and Serbian contemporary writers have developed a similar tone, somewhat cynical but yet again filled with (dark) humour. However, as much as “The Lonesome West” seemed fitting for Balkan audiences, there were significant setbacks that made the play distant from us. From the start we had in mind that we wanted to do a duo-drama, which meant cutting out the other two characters beside the brothers – from which we concluded that it would be best to make a drastic adaptation of the play and bring it closer it to Balkan audiences. Hence, “Lonesome Balkan” was created, an even more dark comedy as “The Lonesome West”, filled with Balkan traditions, culture and mentality.
Jake: The show is being performed in Serbian with English subtitles – how are you feeling about the exciting challenge of bringing such a linguistically diverse piece to a Prague Fringe audience?
Vanja: When it comes to the acting and production elements of the play, “Lonesome Balkan” being performed with English subtitles doesn’t change much. However, speaking from a playwriting viewpoint, it was challenging to translate this text and adapt it to non-Balkan audiences, primarily because of the culture references it utilises in the development of the characterization of both roles. There are a lot of traditional elements we used in creating our play that perhaps can’t function as correctly when translated to English, so we found a proper replacement for all of them in order for the story to keep its dark-humour tone and atmosphere. With that in mind, I believe Prague’s audiences will be met with something they’ve never seen before, and that the language barrier will represent no problem in authentically showing the true life of two society outcasts in rural Balkan.
Jake: Now that we’re gearing up for Prague Fringe, what are you most excited for?
Vanja: This is the first time that “Lonesome Balkan” is being performed outside of Serbia (and the Balkans) and we cannot wait to show Prague’s audiences what we’ve got in store! We are very much looking forward to seeing the reactions of foreigners being introduced to the Balkan culture in an action-packed sixty minutes of our play, and we hope it will overall be an unforgettable experience for everybody involved.
Jake: Given the themes of Binge Fringe, if your show was a beverage of any kind (alcoholic, non-alcoholic – be as creative as you like!), what would it be and why?
Vanja: Lonesome Balkan is definitely rakija (pronounced rah-kee-yuh), a traditional Serbian spirit that mostly resembles a strong fruit liquor. Rakija is both an important motif in our story, but also a staple of the Balkan culture we are bringing to Prague with our play.