Dead Souls


Slovakia at night. Slovakia intimate. Anonymous inhabitants of an anonymous house. The viewer as a pitiless voyeur. Armed with a searchlight...
What seems to be so naturalistic and documenting is actually stylistically composed – a radical postmodern theatre in form. And sometimes highly comical. A suspenseful atmospherically dense collage of image details, babel, noise, and snatches of music. Melancholic images and magic sounds in a twitching, zapping direction of lights and sounds. In the focus: desolate, longing bodies and dead, lost souls.

Theatre has rarely been as haunting and intrusive as in this production. "Dead Souls" – with the title of its performance the SkRAT theatre of Bratislava refers to Joy Division's song and Nikolai Gogol's novel, both of the same name. None of the references is programmatic and yet there are connections.
The song's mantra-like repeated "Keep on calling me" can be read and heard as a demand for the "never ending dialogue", for a permanent, constructive, and productive exchange. Because the exchange, which since the opening of the border in 1989 on one hand seems to be easier and less problematic than ever before, on the other hand has also become more difficult. Theatre and audience are no longer in need of the conspirative dialogue. Theatre and audience in Eastern Europe since 1989 have lost their silent consent: the complicity against the common enemy, the all-regulating, all-controlling, all-defining, all-directing bureaucracy of the state. In the age of neoliberalism, the boisterous and nearly non-regulated capitalism, theatre seems to become needless. Within the simultaneous concert of entertainment and distraction machines the stages only play a marginal role. When they are dealing with socially
relevant, politically charged subjects and topics they often reach only an audience of insiders and like-minded. When they are serving the naive and superstitious entertainment they mostly come off second after the movies
and private TV channels.
So "Keep on calling me" is the contemporary theatre's desperate appeal both to its audience as well as to the cultural funding institutions and companies. The appeal says: let's remain in debate, let's listen to each other, and give us an opportunity to articulate ourselves sustainably – by our own means and possibilities, through our medium, the theatre. It's obvious that independent theatres like the SkRAT, which receive hardly any or much too little support by the state, the cities, and the institutions, need this dialogue all the more.
Pawel Iwanowitsch Tschitschikow also seeks the dialogue, seeks the attention, the interest of others. He, the new one in town, wants to establish his reputation, possibJy a good one. He wants to win over the officials and office-holders. Because as soon as he has made some good connections life will be easier for him in the future. And he does need good connections because he wants to realize an explosive plan. He wants to take possession of "dead souls" and make a killing with them. He hopes to get the owner rights for dead thralls, also called "souls", from landowners for a cheap or no price. These souls will not be erased from the lists until the next revision. That’s why Tschitschikow wants to pawn them to the state for many times the original price and abscond by the profit. Collecting the rights for the dead, however, proves to be delicate because of the greed and distrust of the landowners.
Tschitschikow is the hero of the novel "Dead Souls", which ranks as the most important work of the Russian writer Nikolai Gogol. Gogol, in his time, in post-Napoleonic Russia, could not guess what explosive power this subject of buying and selling souls would have in post-socialistic Eastern Europe 150 years later. And without in any way citing the attitude of this novel by Gogol the SkRAT theatre, solely by the title of its performance, commented on the new (im-)morality of ruthless greed. The degradation of humankind to a product, the disappearing of any ethics and morality in economic activity, the absolutization of profit and income return on the global markets do not seem to be alternative and attractive models of culture to
most Eastern European artists. It is perceived as a progression that the society is rid of bureaucratic socialism. But a third way between the ruthless new capitalism and the old socialist bureaucracy has not been found yet. So what else is left to the home and futureless individuals besides settling down on their small private isles, in the best case as easygoing Robinsons, in most cases as desolate dead souls?

Joseph Berlinger, Cataloge Donumenta 2009, p. 20– 208