‘Dog-human souls’ by Nataša Govedić (Zarez, cultural biweekly)

Theater director Borut Šeparović puts homeless humans and dogs on the stage of the Travno Puppet Theater in the performance Timbuktu, confronting them by way of doubly engaged “exhibition” of unwantedness, incomprehension, “egregious” dereliction and unseemliness, social displacement. Along the sides of the audience the city’s homeless silently line up, while the stage is taken by running dogs from the Shelter for Abandoned Animals in Dumovec. They are linked by a text from Paul Auster’s novel Timbuktu, narrated in the first dog singular, in the voice of the actor Sven Medvešek. This rhetoric trick of dog perspective initiates numerous identification processes in the audience, allowing, at least partially, the possibility that a dog can be more than a biologically programmed food, reproduction and excrement machine.
Namely, Auster’s dog Mr. Bones is disposed with both a language and various theatrical abilities to control the attention of the audience. Mourning the death of his master, Mr. Bones also serves as a narrative lever the director uses to compare the rich, corporate and soulless America with its „loser“ poets come caretakers of mutts. Mr. Bones is no revolutionary here; his acceptance of a life in a provincial family says much about the limits of Auster’s criticism, trapped at the possibility of a food filled bowl.
As for the performing dogs, they portray a range from absolute devotion to acting tasks, performed under the gazing eye of a coach (Mr. Bones is played by a “rescue and multiple intelligence tests champion” named Cap), to spontaneous humping of the nearest partner and urinating on stage. The very fact that “dog” was not understood as a generic term, nor as a fetch slave, but that the stage allows us to think about the wolf’s closest relative as a creature capable of learning and self-control as well as instinctive release, is the truly radical quality of Šeparović’s play. As for the canine acting competence in comparison with human, I would say that the mentioned performance groups are marked by a significant symmetry. If Cap’s fanatic obedience while staring into his coach, awaiting his new assignment bothers us, we can just as equally be bothered by the “trained”, reciting voice of Sven Medvešek at the very beginning of the play. If the curious eyes of homeless dogs and people move us, we are just as shaken by the closing „little conversation“ of the now completely convincing human dog Medvešek and his human master (interpreted by Mario Kovač, Vili Matula or Bojan Navojec). It is interesting that this concluding position of utter equality between the human and canine creatures sitting side by side on the stage (while Cap lies in their lap) was the most painful for the audience, because it most accurately describes the complex emotional turmoil, as well as the constant “Babylonian”, the omni-lingual dialoguing of the human and animal kind. This is knowledge that not even the human species can precisely conceive nor articulate, we also haven’t the vocabulary to speak of mutual belonging, pervasion, exchanging of souls. One small sepulchral scene at the end of the play Timbuktu, performed without any religious pathos, made many people tell me that they probably would have “fallen apart” if they had opened the hatch on their strictly controlled emotionality a little more. Timbuktu definitely touched its audience more that it was prepared to bear. Does one need a clearer definition of engaged theater?

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