University of Laughs

Copyright Keith Kenney, 2012

We returned to Marjanishvili Theater to see another play, but this time we were seated on stage and we faced the theater of empty seats. We were in this odd position because we sat on a set of temporary bleachers, which rested on a giant rotating disk. At what would normally be the front of the stage was a very simple set and the two actors who performed University of Laughs. Near the end of the play, the disk turned the audience in a full circle as the two actors ran ahead and briefly assumed positions on other simple sets on what had been our left, rear, and right sides. Very interesting; very effective.

Here’s the plot: Set in 1940, a young playwright must submit his play to a government censor before rehearsals can begin. But the censor, who is looking for an excuse to shut down the comedy troupe, tells the writer that he needs to make a change and return the next day. Upon returning with great hopes, the writer is disappointed that another change must be made. Ironically, this cruel teasing makes the once poor-quality play better and better. Finally the play is perfected and the ending is  . . . ambiguous.

I apologize, but I couldn’t understand whether the censor had grown to like just the play or if she liked both the play and the play writer. The subtitle translations were better, but their timing off, which hurt my ability to understand some of the play’s meaning.

A spectacular spectacle

We had the pleasure of attending a performance of The Decameron at Marjanishvili Theater in Tbilisi. This theater has a very deep stage and rows upon rows of lights above. The theater is small, and its glory days have faded a bit, but it’s a wonderful space.

Our “daughter” Nini Chakvetadze tipped us that this play, and two others, would have subtitles in English. Indeed, there was a small screen to the side of the stage, but, unfortunately, we found it difficult to “interpret” the English. It seemed as if someone had used Google Translator to translate the original Italian into Georgian and then had again used Google Translator, but this time to translate Georgian into English. Never mind. We loved the performance.

Why? Because of the wonderful work by the director, set designer, and “scenographer?” Levan Tsuladze! With tremendous imagination and a relatively low budget Levan told this story in a most exciting manner.

Here’s the basic storyline (from Wikipedia): The Decameron is a 14th-century medieval allegory encompassing 100 tales by ten young people. It was probably composed between 1350 and 1353 and it includes bawdy tales of love, wit, practical jokes, and life lessons.

My favorite scene was the last one. If I understood it correctly, the message is that there is so much sin in the world–we are all sinners–but in the end, Gabriel will blow his horn and life will begin anew. To visualize this message, a few actors used tall poles to hold a thin piece of material high overhead. They carried the material from the back of the stage to the front, and then down a few stairs to the audience, and then to the back of the theater. We were ALL covered by the cloth–we are all sinners. I took the photo moments at the beginning of this scene.

Copyright Keith Kenney, 2012


Copyright Susanna Melo, 2011

Tbilisoba is an annual celebration of the arrival of autumn. We saw an exhibit of black-and-white photos taken in Tbilisi between 1890 and 1930. We heard a pop rock band and the screams of young teens. Hundreds of children had their faces painted, and their parents bought them balloons. Older adults admired antique cars and some dressed in traditional Georgian costumes. Dancers entertained on various stages. Everyone ate fruit and cake. More adventuresome people crushed grapes for wine. The weather was warm and sunny with clear skies. I’m glad we could join the masses of people enjoying themselves.

Copyright Susanna Melo, 2011

Copyright Susanna Melo, 2011

How many political parties are there in Georgia?

Copyright Keith Kenney, 2011

I was leaving a bookstore/coffee house and saw that about a 1,000 demonstrators had filled Rustaveli Ave, the main street in downtown Tbilisi. I took this photo and then went to the Web in order to learn more.

The National Forum, an opposition political party, asked the public to participate in a “March of Georgians.” The march was held to protest “the domestic and foreign policies pursued by Saakashvili, [the] Americanization of Georgia and impoverishing the population.” The banner reads: “For Mother Tongue” because the National Forum believes President Saakashvili has a policy of downgrading the importance of the Georgian language.

I’m not sure what that means, but perhaps the National Forum is protesting Saakashvili’s hiring of 1,500 English teachers. A recent USC School of Journalism and Mass Communications graduate is one of those 1,500 teachers. Evan Lohmann (class of 2011), currently teaches English in Gori.

The National Forum chose September 27 because on that date eighteen years ago Georgia lost control over one of its most beautiful regions. Abkhaz forces, along with allies from Russia, seized the Abkhaz capital Sokhumi. Abkazia is on the northwest coast of the Black Sea and was the number one tourist destination for members of the Soviet Union. Tourists could ski in the mountains and swim in the lake on the same day.

About six months ago, three political parties united into a bloc called the National Forum. The “People’s Forum”, “Union of Traditionalists” and “Women’s Party” share common views on socio-economic issues. The block, however, does not plan to take part in elections and it will probably not make any significant changes in Georgia’s political landscape.

In the last parliamentary elections (2008), Saakashvili’s party, United National Movement – for Victorious Georgia, gained 59% of the vote. Four opposition parties shared the remaining seats. Based on my research, it seems that Georgia has at least 40 political parties. The National Forum is near the bottom of the list in terms of popularity.