‘Timbuktu – Borut Šeparović’ by Igor Ružić (Radio 101)
Lies should be loved, for how could one otherwise bear all that supposedly isn’t a lie.
The theater is also a lie that needs consenting to, but it rarely happens that announcements of a play lie so obviously and unsuccessfully as was the case with “Timbuktu”, a play set on Scene Travno by Borut Šeparović in cooperation of Montažstroj and the Zagreb Puppet Theater. The announcement, just like the entire marketing construction surrounding it, tries to convince the potential audience and all the interested parties that this is a play about humans and dogs. Maybe even more about dogs than humans. That, however, is entirely not true. “Timbuktu” is exclusively a story about humans, in which dogs are just a metaphoric conveyer – attractive, cute and necessary, but not decisive.
A monologue for a dog on stage spoken by an actor in the audience was based on the novel by Paul Auster, so just like he did not want to write a book about dogs, Šeparović did not want to direct a play about animals. Although, there are similarities, only they are seen from a different view, a lower one, not necessarily a frog’s view, but – a dog’s. That is when “Timbuktu” becomes a convincing story about freedom and liberation, about the difference between a real life situation where there is a collar around ones neck in addition to an always full fridge, and the other, when a paper bag floating in the wind can also be art, instead of just garbage. Poetical – a little and maybe – but worth living. Or not, if one decides differently and accepts to be, as they say, “arrested by life”. That is the real story of Timbuktu, and of the Timbuktu as a metaphoric opposite to what America is today, in which, as Rammstein, who was also quoted in the play, puts it, we live in one way or another.
Due to everything that the dramaturgist Jasna Žmak and Borut Šeparović made out of Auster’s novel, this is one of the top examples of dramatization and adaptation of prose into a theatrical situation. It is a shame that the Croatian Theater Awards, being the domestic theatrical Oscar, don’t have a category for it, but that might be for the best, because someone else would probably get it anyway. In any case, the idea was transferred, and even improved, with that special value that maybe only a live performance might have today, which is a share in the reality of the game that represents and creates the world alike.
In “Timbuktu”, alongside the trained champion Cap and twelve of his kin from the Shelter for Abandoned Animals, a dozen of the so-called persons without an address participate as well. Just like out of the theater, they are almost imperceptible, and the audience primarily intuitively perceives them as a living addition to the theater than as a penetration of reality. However, this is not exploitation, economic or ideological, but a way to really say and show something in theater. Every theatrical tool becomes redundant when there is a true story on stage, which is something the authors of the play are aware of, and so the special guests of this play-activist project do not act, nor do they have to, whether they be dogs or address-less humans.
And just because the dogs might stink a little, just like the people in the audience and on stage alike, “Timbuktu“ is also not a perfect work of art – its introduction is too long, Cap is almost too obeying, and Sven Medvešek, who lends him his voice, escapes hardly or not at all from the almost model-like manner adjusted to the reading of advertising messages, instead of a dog monologue. He pulls out of it in the end, because he easily breaks his starting cool by barking, growling and finally with a completely successful and honest address to the audience. The question is, to paraphrase Dalibor Martinis, is he addressing it as man to man, or there is some part of dog in there as well.
Thus, we mustn’t disregard the didactic message of this play. Considering it is meant for the young, it simultaneously plays and explains the theatrical illusion. This “let’s not lie to each other” approach, along with an actor who steps outside of the role to explain what he’s doing, and who and what he and Cap represent on stage together, is the final segment of this play in which it functions as a conscientious, modern pedagogic tool. This is what makes it an exception in the theatrical offer for youth, for those who might recognize the Doors and the Stooges, but might for the first time hear it on Scene Travno. Even if they don’t adopt a dog, or a homeless person, this small advance might be a big step for future, not only that of theater-going generations. Besides, the sooner they realize they’re living in America, the sooner they’ll realize everything else. And then, theater work will be worth it.