In order to enter the crepuscular world of the Gallants of the Old Court, a performance which premieres at the National Theatre of Cluj-Napoca, on 22 April, at 7.00 p.m., I addressed some questions to the actors playing them.
Eugenia Sarvari: Mr. Cornel Răileanu, how does it feel to be Pașadia? What exactly within your sensibility and personality resonates with this character?
Cornel Răileanu: To be Pașadia? It feels great. One of the tasks of the actor is to meet his character halfway. In fact, it's a two-way path. You have to bring the character toward yourself as best as you can. But the greatest thing is to make the two worlds intermingle. The longest road is the one you make toward the character. Anyway, there is a similarity between the actor as an individual and the character he is playing. All the character features are common, one way or another. All you need to do is recognize and assume them, try to use them. To use them as a backup, not as a drawback. Terențiu used to say "I am a man and nothing human is foreign to me".
E.S.: Paşadia is a squire who belongs to an old aristocrat family, but he has a dubious personal past where nobility and vice merge. How do you manage to live alternately two lives, by day and by night?
C.R.: Pașadia belongs to a gallery of characters where things are taken to the extremes, on both sides. On one side there is refinement, culture, erudition, inclination towards art and science, while the other displays a cultivated and accomplished drive, almost in the detriment of others. This entails immorality, vice. It's the desire to taste all possible pleasures, until saturation. He even admits towards the end he let himself carried too far along on this road. And it's hard to come back. That's why he advises Cara, his good friend, who is still young, not to take his example. Cara still has the possibility to come round. He is certain the direction he has taken is not the right one at all. But not because he were a mystical or a religious person. He isn't thinking at the capital, ultimate punishment, which comes after redemption, but rather has simply reached the conclusion it's good to strike a balance. Living two lives alternately is what mkes the art of the actor. Especially at the end of your career, you come to the inevitable conclusion that acting is a sort of controlled, well-tempered schizofrenia. Everything beyond this control deviates in pathological. Well, this is what distinguishes us actors from other people, it's our ability to coordinate, to control this balance. Because only the actor can make the easy switch from a certain personality to his own. And sometimes, politicians can also do that, those trained in this matter. They do lie, though. But we firmly believe in what we do.
E.S.: Ionuț Caras, Matei Rotaru and Miron Maxim, how did you enter the world of Pantazi, Pirgu and Cara?
Ionuț Caras: There are major differences between the script we work on and the novel. It's natural, after all we need to adapt, to essentialize, to perhaps depict some fragments from the world of that cursed Bucharest of the olden times. So many elements of character presentation or of scene depiction are gone. Even so, the characters lead is still there.
Miron Maxim: With great curiosity and pleasure. It's a challenge for me. I got in touch with this world during high school, when I first read the novel, and I found it very rich, well-anchored in history, which is one of the author's domain of interest. I have been fascinated by the characters ever since. That beginning of the 20th century Bucharest was extremely picturesque. And that endearing feeling stayed with me.
Matei Rotaru: How did I manage to enter the world of Pirgu? I changed my perfume. I picked a horribly sweet perfume, I waited till it rained to play with puppies out in the open. I wanted that very sweet smell of perfume to mix with the smell of rain-trenched puppy. I found great pleasure in dirting my hands, from cream to mud. Mixing them. I did much research in this direction. I started with the smell. Pirgu has a distinct smell. This is how I picture him. A pungent, smother, bitter-sweet smell.
E.S.: Ionuț, when you project your character, what exactly are you going to keep from the figure of Pantazi, the descendant of Mediterranean pirates, the Greek-origin nobleman and the refined aesthete, a great lover of luxury?
I.C.: My Pantazi is based, of course, on Mateiu Caragiale's ample descriptions. The character keeps his pride, his mystery, his rich culture, his melancholy. Maybe I'll emphasize some things I liked more, maybe I'll discover some new ones, I don't know yet. We still are in full work process and my Pantazi hasn't found yet his firm pace. He's searching, he's stumbling, he's falling, he's travelling.... Somehow like Caragiale's Pantazi, isn't it? This means they are probably on the right track, on the rails, as an acquaintance of mine would say...
E.S.: Matei, isn't it difficult to "draw" this "evil genius", Pirgu, who is a Mephistophelian character, a guide toward the underground of Mateiu's world?
M.R.: I don't know how much of him is indeed an evil genius. He's a tib, a very fluid thing. I don't necessarily see him as an evil genius. He is not actually keen on doing evil. He doesn't care, he is not fascinated by evil itself, but by the various transformations people face when they are exposed to a considerable amount of hatred, squalor, promiscuity. It's a pleasure for the sake of pleasure. All people have a certain inclination towards the dirt, the unwholesome, the filth. Pleasure for pleasure's sake. This is why I see him a bit... This is where his "cleanliness" lies as well.
E.S.: Did this character help you cleanse on the inside?
M.R.: Yes. Thinking of what Pirgu does and what he could do, and filtering it through my own experiences, the answer is yes. This feels like a short cold shower...
E.S.: Miron, how did you approach the narrator Cara, a disciple of the gallants, a young man on his way to initiation, which he fully exploits?
M.M.: The chance to approach as an actor the world of these characters was an experience that made me feel a certain humility. But in a good way. I wanted to learn, more exactly. So the more so he is a real character. I studied, I read. I approached him as I should have, as any actor in fact does. Especially when he plays the part of a real person. Of course, the performance is also built on a metaphor, around the story of the gallants, but all comes from Mateiu Caragiale's inner world.
E.S.: What other texts did you insert in the dramatization of the novel?
M.M.: We used texts from the letters in which Mateiu Caragiale recounted certain events, in which he confessed. Some off them are in my lines, others in my colleagues', because this performance was intended to project these characters as alter egos of the author. And then we came to this mix. But viewers will probably discover other things too. We shouldn't reveal all the secrets yet. It's better to leave a part of the mystery out there...
Material realized by Eugenia Sarvari