The actor Ionuț Caras and his colleague Matei Rotaru have initiated the project Good Texts in Crazy Places, financed by the Sphere of Donors from Transylvania, and supported by the association Some People and by the National Theatre of Cluj-Napoca. Five productions have already taken place within this cultural project: Letter to my Father, by Franz Kafka (at the "Nicolae Bălcescu" HighSchool), NICHITANAUM, a poetic duel - in the boxing ring (at the Sport Factory), Bluffing with Surbelea (at the Painting Atelier of the Theatre and Opera of Cluj), Letters from the Front (at the no.1 Garrison Military Dorm from Cluj and at the National Theatre) and Old tales and new fables (in the attic of the History Museum of Transylvania from Cluj).
Ionuț Caras is now working on a different kind of project: Trials at the Theatre. These types of confrontational productions, conceived as speech duels, are very popular in the United States, but are almost unknown in Romania. The first episode announced is Hamlet's Trial, which takes place on the great stage, Tuesday, 11 June 2019, from 7.00 p.m. We asked Ionuț Caras to tell us about the Tuesday event, in order to help us understand the actors' approach.
Ionuț, what can you tell us about this Trial of Hamlet? Where from did you get the idea?
Ionuț Caras: I got it from Mr. Mihai Măniuțiu, who asked me if I such a project would interest me. He had noticed that I was keen on going off the beaten path, that I was searching for a theatre alternative, for a way beyond the classic, normal structure of theatre. Such a way was Good Texts in Crazy Places.
Măniuțiu found more from Eli Simon (who teaches Acting at the Irvine University of California, and has directed two productions at the National Theatre of Cluj, War of the Clowns and Clown Aliens) about this type of productions, which he successfully directs in his American university. I checked what they did, which was a long debate, rather than a scene performed, as we do. It was just an open evening where several professionals, such as prosecutors and lawyers, were invited. There is a huge interest in the United Staes for this type of debate-productions, their public has a different education from this point of view, they know more about laws and the judicial system, they can act as jurors. In short, the ordinary citizen is much more involved in this whole story. I just caught the idea and I started working on it.
And you delved straight into Hamlet...
I.C.: Yes, because we wanted to find playwriting situations, and this was the first we found. Moreover, this production was already in our repertory, which made things easier for the public. Hamlet is also the best known, the clearest dramatic case.
The other case would be that of Master Manole, with its main topic of Mira's sacrifice. So Manole will be put to trial for killing Mira. If the public welcomes the project, we'll have a third trial, made from a theatre play as well.
The underlying principle is apparently simple: we'll play the scene that marks the main count of the trial, which is Hamlet's killing of Polonius. We'll play the entire scene between Hamlet and Gertrude, because it helps us understand the situation in depth. After the theatre scene, the law professionals are invited to speak, the prosecutor's speech being followed by two pleas. While one of them asks for a death penalty, the other recommends exile to England. It's life or death for Hamlet.
The cast includes not only actors, but other types of professionals as well. Who are they?
I.C.: Polonius is played by Cristian Grindean, a well-known personality in Cluj. He's part of the TIFF Video Guide team, he takes part in all kinds of events, he's passionate about Shakespeare and has an extremely playful personality, with outstanding acting qualities. To me, this kind of mix seems more interesting. This scene can be played like it were in progress, not necessarily like an autonomous scene, with its own sets and costumes, cut out of a solid production. No. This is something free. The keyword that defines this whole situation is discussion, debate, controversy.
The prosecutor - Roxana Mândruțiu - has specialized in bankruptcy law and litigation issues, while the Defense lawyer - Gabriela Groza - has specialized in criminal law and psychology. Both are members of the Cluj Bar. It wasn't easy to find them, but once I told them about the project, they found it interesting and gladly joined in it.
What is the public's role in this whole story?
I.C.: The spectators will be both jurors and judges. They will be the ones to decide. This is in fact what draws me to this project: those very seconds when the spectator needs to take a stand and make a decision. Which is not an easy one, but a decision which requires judgement, the balancing of options and a clear choice. I want to see if they really get involved into this matter. In other words, I want to see whether they simply play, whether they fake their interest, whether the pleas and the story told are able to make them feel responsible. The spectators' vote is what matters.
Just like in 12 Angry Men.
I.C.: Yes, like in 12 Angry Men, only that this time we deal with one thousand angry men who have to choose. This whole matter is highly unpredictable. At least the ending is, which depends on the choice made by the one thousand. We'll see on the spot, it will be a first for us and for everybody else as well.
Will every public pronounce a different verdict?
I.C.: Yes. Votes are counted. It's interesting to see what are the exact numbers. To see how many voted for life and how many for death. We can only hint at what is going to happen to Hamlet afterwards. The public will have to be deeply involved and careful. I noticed several reactions confirming that this alternative to the classic production is indeed a good idea. It's a great idea to turn the theatre production in a polemical stage, in which certain topics are analyzed and put to debate. This is very important, in my opinion. It's important to analyze things in a large, open environment, rather than at home or in your own head.
An interview by Eugenia Sarvari