While he prepares the next premiere at the National Theatre of Cluj-Napoca, the production THE MOST BELOVED OF EARTHLINGS by Marin Preda, caught in intense, challenging rehearsals, director Tudor Lucanu found the time to answer our questions and introduce us into the atmosphere of the production.
The preview will take place on Thursday, 23 May, at 7.00 p.m., and the premiere, on Friday, 24 May, at 7.00 p.m., in the Great Hall.
Tudor, how many other productions did you dramatize?
Tudor Lucanu: Actually, at the Cluj Theatre I only directed Love Stories at First Sight. Then, You're an Animal, Viskovitz! after Alessandro Boffa at the "Anton Pann" Theatre of Râmnicu-Vâlcea. I've also directed at the "Excelsior" Theatre of Bucharest Lord of the Flies by William Golding, which was dramatized by Nigel Williams. That would make The Most Beloved of Earthlings the third performance that I've dramatized.
Is it challenging to dramatize for the stage?
T.L.: Some texts work great on the stage, others not so much. For Love Stories at First Sight, it was very difficult to make a selection from the original text which consisted of a set of stories. To tell a real or an imaginary story doesn't necessarily entail dramatism. Or, at least, it does not entail the conflictual dramatism arising between two characters. It only creates a certain exposure. However, Viskovitz and The Lord had several scenes with exciting potential for acting. I have also worked with students. Me and Irina Wintze, Miklos Bács and Camelia Curuțiu, we dramatized scenes from Daniel Keyes' book, Billy Milligan's Minds. So there you have another example.
I assume there are certain texts that ask themselves to be dramatized. What made you choose Marin Preda's novel, which we all read eagerly once it was published in 1980?
T.L.: Most of the time, I choose my texts depending on the circumstances, I'm not sure if they actually come towards me. I was looking for Romanian texts when I decided for The Most Beloved of Earthlings. It was the Centenary, and the management suggested we focus on Romanian texts. I searched through several Romanian dramatic texts, but nothing incited me at first, nothing made me say "this is what I would put on stage!" While I was working at Love Stories... it suddenly dawned on me that I should dramatize a novel. And the first Romanian novel that "popped" into my mind was The Most Beloved of Earthlings. It had probably made a great effect on my mind in high-school. And I think it remains closely connected to the historical moment we live now. After all those years, after all those important historical moments, we seem to have changed so little, we have the same flaws, we still promote full-on mediocrity... What I appreciate in this text, besides its historical-political dimension, is the way it reveals the complete dehumanization brought by a stupid system of thought.
...which you didn't actually experience.
T.L.: Which I did not experience indeed. I was too small - I was born in 1985 - my childhood memories have more to do with the animals from my grandparents' household. I do remember, though, queueing up one morning for milk. The food store was at the ground floor of Matei (Rotaru)'s block - we used to live next door in Iași - and there was a huge waiting line in front of that building. I think it was fifty metres long, if not longer. My grandfather took a small chair with him, to rest. I remember that.
It's interesting that your generation, the younger ones even, still look back into those times...
T.L.: I think we should all learn from things past. Although it might sound commonplace, the history repeats itself, several times even. And we need to be careful. I was talking to the actors at rehearsals how certain patterns shape us, make us behave according to them. All people live like that. It's very likely you will repeat the things you once did - once you lied, you will keep on lying. Nothing changes radically in a man. He'll always keep the lie inside. This underlying pattern remains true for the good things also. That's what I believe.
And even if the pattern is "asleep", it reactivates at some point...
T.L.: It does indeed. In his last scene from the end, Petrini feels he can no longer trust somebody who lied to him, and this feeling triggers what he does next. If somebody lies to you, but assures you that he would never do it again, can you still trust him? You will always feel a grain of uncertainty that tells you he might lie again. And distrust is destabilizing. It's hard to regain trust in somebody once you lost it. I think this is one of the most important topics of the novel. Besides this, I was also interested, at a human level, in the alternative views upon life - life seen by the simple man, by the intellectual, or by somebody who has been through many ordeals.
Could we see here the red thread of the entire performance?
T.L.: The initial idea I discussed with the actors and with the scenographer Cristi Rusu was the idea of freedom. Neither of the characters of The Most Beloved of Earthlings is or will ever be a free man. And nor are we today actually free, no matter how hard we claimed that we acquired freedom. We still don't possess actual freedom. Many things still constrain us.
There might be an absolute freedom, provided that it doesn't lead to anarchy. I think man can reach a certain feeling of freedom, but this means to cut all ties to things around him, to society, to rules, and so on.
Isn't our potential freedom just on the spiritual level?
T.L.: It probably is. I think you might be free if you retreat in complete isolation, but I'm not sure how would such a freedom look like. We can only imagine. Except this case, however, I think we are in a constant lack of freedom. Petrini felt even in his childhood house like in a prison. His mother imposed on him religious standards, while his father was obssessed with "what people say". There were simpler, socially determined confinements: we can't do anything lest people should gossip. Religion also worked as a huge coercion. Petrini felt from the first moment this lack of freedom. This made him escape into that new gnosis he had intended to write ever since he turned 18. Later, the relationship with Matilda confines him to another kind of prison. It still denies his freedom. He's always caught, he's continually imprisoned. This character arc soaked us up in the story. I don't know if he'll eventually manage to live in this prison of life. Which explains the sets I projected for the performance.
A prison environment...
T.L. : Yes. It all starts with a flashback. He gets into prison, but he is already imprisoned.
The prison of the prison of the prison.
T.L: Exactly. He's constantly confined. When he escapes from one prison, he enters another. Once delivered from his first sentence, he soon finds himself imprisoned in the life with Matilda or with the society that expels him and denies his intellectual character. His sentences make it impossible that he regains his academic position. He's perpetually sentenced. He can't do what he wants, what he likes. Everything seems to confine him, to lock him up.
I was watching you at some point giving directions to Matei and Ruslan, changing the tone of your voice in order to convey what Petrini or Ciceo should convey. Does the actor inside you supersede the director in such moments?
T.L.: I've said it before and I still believe it. I would never make an actor play a part that I wouldn't play myself. I think my original actor training takes precedent over directing. It helps me understand the actor in depth. I put myself in his place. I imagine how would a character react, why would he do something, why would he make a certain choice. You understand everything once you try it on your own. I believe that theatre relies very much on direct, unmediated experience. This means to experiment, to try it all in your own flesh, to see if it works or not. Otherwise, I don't think you could make theatre just out of theory, theatre on paper. I remember the story with the home beans that you move from one place to another until everything works out. Why doesn't it work out on stage as well? You make your movie at home and you come prepared for the stage. For me, it's more difficult to explain if I don't try it. Many times, what I do is try to set the path, then try to make the actor understand. I let him discover the way, even if I know where he is supposed to arrive. The director is a guide who set the track and has travelled the road before, who knows the destination and has seen the whole map, so he softly takes the actor's hand and they proceed together, relaxed. Together we go. Once in a while, the director asks "What's going on in your left? In your right?"
The director knows exactly where he wants to arrive. But he acts as if he didn't know, as if he is just about to discover. This isn't a trick, though. Because the actor immediately realizes if it's a trap. I know I have to get there, I know what's next, but I start all over again. And I see what happens. I might discover something new.
And do you actually discover something new?
T.L.: I do, because things work differently with an actor. I try to put things into practice and then everything becomes very organic. I think the organic structure is the most important in theatre. The feeling that everything is true, although nothing actually is in theatre: the actor isn't really injured in a fight scene, for instance. But there is a truth effect stemming from his organic reaction. I think this is what we are looking for, this organic character. Because of that, I am rather at ease with actors. I try not to lock them up. I try to hear their suggestions, to provide them with some guidance, then we combine our options, we find what we have in common and we try to make the creative process as fluid as possible. The scene, their mind and the text should all be attuned to one another. If something is not working, if a reply, an emphasis is wrong, I flinch and I wonder: what was that? This is not organic. This is fake. You can feel when everything is working fine.
These last days, I was talking to a young director, Sînziana Stoican, who asked me if I missed acting. But I am always acting in rehearsals. I don't miss anything. I don't necessarily need to be in the performance and stand in front of the public. What is important to be is the search during rehearsals, not the public exposure. And yes, I am acting. I play all parts in rehearsals. As I said before, you must try on your own, do it yourself. We can't avoid this practical side.
How much did it help you to be acknowledged by your theatre peers, to receive all those awards?
T.L.: I couldn't say how much. It's wonderful to be acknowledged, to know that people appreciate what you did. It's great that awards do exist, but I don't think they should be the goal. As I already said, the fact that I play during rehearsals doesn't mean I am a fan of acting in front of the public. It doesn't mean that I miss performing, or getting praise. Of course that getting recognition makes you confident that you are on the right track and that you should keep on pursuing it. However, the goal is not to get an award, but to try to discover as many things as possible about yourself, about the human being, about how we behave in certain situations. All these should be displayed for the public, but not by expecting applauses or rewards. I think that theatre is a good instrument for society because it can express certain things, sometimes in a direct, other times in veiled manner, but keeping the same firmness of message. This doesn't necessarily mean that theatre has an educational role, but rather that it is able to address things head-on and say: "we have a problem here, we need to talk about that. Let's not just leave this to unravel." Those issues might concern the society, the human being, the way we perceive a certain contemporary disease - such as depression -, the major topics of death, of freedom. These topics need to be brought under constant discussion, because they constantly shapeshift. We perceive freedom differently today, when we can access so much information and claim that "we are free!" We are, but what if we lose the Internet connection? Or if we are disconnected from the mobile network? Or from electricity? Then our so-called freedom is also lost.
What do you expect from theatre and what does theatre mean for you?
T.L.: Expectations make you prone to deception, so I avoid expecting something from theatre. I want to be pleasantly surprised every time. I want to meet as many people as possible, to actually meet them during our work. There are, of course, actors with whom I worked, but whom I've never met, like it was nothing between us. Whereas I had a real connection to others. If I were to expect something, it would be to have as many such encounters as possible, because they help me/us grow. Great encounters transcend our profession and they provide much more: fulfillment, the desire to go on, to do and to try new things.
Theatre? What does it mean for me? Encounters. You go to theatre to encounter something: a story, new people, new characters. In older times, people used to prepare before going to theatre, they put on nice clothes, because they went to encounter something new. Just like when you go to meet a potential lover. You prepare, you keep your mind open, you try to see what you can offer, what it can offer you. There is a fertile exchange.
Tudor Lucanu has graduated Acting (2008) and Direction (2012), and has a Masters Degree in Acting (2010). Since 2013, he has worked as a director at the National Theatre of Cluj-Napoca. At the "Anton Pann" Theatre of Râmnicu-Vâlcea, he directed You're an Animal, Viskovitz! after Alessandro Boffa. He directed several performances at the National Theatre of Cluj-Napoca: Our Brave Micșa by Radu Țuculescu, The Gate by Hatházi András (where he was also scenographer), My Wife, Shakespeare by Cornel Udrea, Amalia takes a Deep Breath, In Traffic by Alina Nelega (he was also scenographer), 12 Angry Men by Reginald Rose, Barrymore by William Luce, The Emigrants by Sławomir Mrożek (wher he also played the part of XX), Romeo and Juliet by W. Shakespeare, Playlist by C.C. Buricea-Mlinarcic (he was also scenographer), Love Stories at First Sight after Gabriel Liiceanu, Adriana Bittel, Ioana Pârvulescu, Radu Paraschivescu, Ana Blandiana. He was awarded at the Short Theatre Festival of Oradea for The Emigrants and for You're an animal, Viskovitz!, the latter production being also awarded at the "I Plead for (the) YOU(ng)" Festival of Piatra Neamț.
An interview by Eugenia Sarvari