Stilske vježbe or 47 years in a play

So, I had not been to see a play in years. No, kids’ stuff does not count! Although there are some truly awesome plays for kids as young as 8 months in Croatia, thanks to the wonderful Svetlana Patafta whose Colours of the Rainbow have become a traditional outing for my son and me. (And there are cool plays for 18-month-olds at the independently run Mala scena theatre in Zagreb). But I digress.

Yeah, somehow I lost touch with people who do go to the theatre regularly. I had no idea what was good anymore and to be honest, I really don’t feel comfortable going alone. (Weird, since going to the cinema all by my lonesome, even though considered borderline psychotic in Croatia, I have no problem with).

At my birthday party this year, sometime around 2 am, a friend bemoaned the fact that he had never seen this famous play that has been on forever, and probably would not, since he was going to Germany for work. And leaving Zagreb to visit family in Istria, too, so not chance of it.

I had been trying to go to that particular one for over a decade. Something would always come up and I ended up being the only person I know who had not seen it. (Not even on TV!) I was even on their mailing list! Another friend prompted me a few days later and I got the three of us tickets online, so there was no backing out.

The play is Stilske vježbe, (Exercises in Style) by Raymond Queneau but I suspect the translation to be quite divergent from the original. (I’ve not read it but I will. As soon as I find this Croatian translation to read through). It was just what I needed: the same short, non-sensical story of two men bickering in a full Zagreb tram, hilariously retold over and over again in a myriad of styles. I am in love with it, have been the entire week. (Have skipped two days of posts in an attempt to come up with something deep to say about it. Can’t, too busy living it. And laughing inside.)

L-R Producer, Tonko Maroevi? (translator), Lela Margitic, Pero Kvrgic
L-R Producer, Tonko Maroevi? (translator), Lela Margitic, Pero Kvrgic

Stilske vježbe is the longest running play in the world, performed by the same actors Pero Kvrgi? and Lela Margiti? who may have grown old doing the same play year in, year out, but the act has definitely not gotten old. The play premiere was on January 19th, 1968 at the Zagreb ITD Teatar and has won a place in the printed edition of the Guinness Book of Records on its 41st birthday in January 2009.

I was thrilled to find out, before the play began, that I had inadvertently managed to buy us tickets (and there were only five left, three of which I bought, but they are forever sold out) for the celebratory 47th anniversary performance! I was a bit shocked that I was even able to buy tickets for such a performance, there were drinks and a cake after the play and I felt a bit out of place. Where were the celebrities, the mayor, the minister of culture, the prime minister, big acting names? Skiing, most likely.

It may not have been the 45th or the 50th anniversary, but the ageist in me felt that when the same two people do the same show for 47 years and actors tending to be at least 18 or

Photo by Patrik Zufic
Photo by Patrik Zufic

so (and these were a bit older than that!) at the time of the premiere, each new anniversary should be a huge deal. Then again, if Croatians knew how to revere their own accomplishments, there would have probably been no way for me to get tickets for and see this unique performance of the play. It just might be that it was a richer experience like this, for me and for the actors; a hundred or so people, many of them quite young, none of them anything else but members of a genuinely interested audience come to have a laugh and a good time.

And rewarded for their interest not only by a great performance of an outstanding duo but also by the chance to see a short documentary about the play and its 47 years that taught me a lot about it yet managed not to contain any spoilers what so ever. (Not event he ones I committed writing this post.)

There was an art exhibition in the hall where the actors joined the audience for drinks and cake after the show, inspired by the play, made by children of a local design high-school. The way Croatian do things may be a bit askew, but sometimes, just sometimes, it is also awesome.

Photo by Patrik Zufic
Photo by Patrik Zufic

And my friend, he went home to Istria just in time to catch another performance of Stilske vježbe. Of course he went! 🙂

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About Mihaela Marija Perkovic

Mihaela Marija Perkovic was GUFF laureate 2013 and is now the European GUFF Adminstrator. She is also a writer. And Mum. PR wizard. Journalist. Translator. Clutz. Copywriter. SF fan. Writing workshops aficionado. SFera member. Conrunner. Lousy photographer.
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