Jaunā Gaita nr. 95, 1973

JG 95

The theatre is irresistible...
Matthew Arnold

Theatre of the absurd is already dead; only the corpse must be carted away.
Mārtiņš Zīverts

Those who love the theatre view it as the ultimate art and the drama as the most exciting of literary genres. Pessimists today, however, claim that the theatre is a dying art by pointing to its dwindling audience and the dearth of important new playwrights. Others deplore that tragedy, the highest form of knowledge according to Aristotle, apparently cannot be written in modern times; tragedy requires faith in the greatness of man, which our age, obsessed with the absurdity of human existence, has lost. The problems that afflict the modern theatre generally are even more severe in today's Latvian theatre, although the situation is not hopeless. This issue of JG features several articles which examine the history and the contemporary state of Latvian theatre, émigré as well as Soviet; an interview with playwright Mārtiņš Zīverts and fragments from his essay "In Passing", in which the author combines autobiographical sketches and reflections on dramatic art; "Latvian Theatre Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow" by Alfreds Straumanis, professor of theatre at University of Southern Illinois, based on a series of lectures delivered in Australia - interspersed with comments about audience reactions; and "Latvian Theatre in Exile" by Ligita Andersone, RADA graduate and stage, film, and television actress.

Mārtiņš Zīveru towers above all other 20th century Latvian playwrights and few would dispute his place as one of the two or three giants in the entire history of Latvian drama. His oeuvre ranges from verse tragedy to social drama and farce, from intricate multiple-scene works to one-act plays of severe, concentrated perfection. Zīverts singles out those one-act plays as his most successful artistically; to quote - "I do not know of a single playwright of any nation who has groped as far in this genre as I". He states in the interview that the theatre situation in Soviet Latvia may be fairly promising; the shackles of socialist realism have loosened, there is artistic experimentation, search for new directions. However, he does not see much hope for development in exile - lack of writers, no professional ensembles, dwindling audiences.

Andersone deplores the old-fashioned, moralistic tendency of Latvian theatre audiences in exile and argues for greater professionalism, a broader outlook. Straumanis likewise regrets that too many parochial, stagnant attitudes persist, and proposes a rather startling solution for the preservation of Latvian theatre as well as language: massive endowments for the creation of theatre ensembles in the United States and Australia consisting exclusively of young people. Youth, free from artistic shackles of the past and more responsive to the demands of the modern age, would bring their professional training to bear on creating an exciting, new theatre. It is also interesting to note some allusions to the dispute about Brecht and about theatre of the absurd between Straumanis (pro) and Zīverts (con).

Dr. Kārlis Ābele in "Emigré Latvian Cultural Life during 1972" contributes, as in past years, a detailed survey of the developments in Latvian music, literature, theatre, and art on three continents - North America, Europe, and Australia; his article puts into perspective the essays on drama. He also notes that recently there have been many quarrels, especially among the literati, frequently stemming from disagreements about the desirability of contacts with Soviet Latvia.

"Paradise Lost And Kingdoms Unbespoken" by Juris Silenieks analyzes the works of four younger generation émigré authors - Andrejs Irbe, Tālivaldis Ķiķauka, Ilze Sķipsna, and Benita Veisberga. He states, that, while the older Latvian writers have often cultivated a certain parochialism, even nationalistic chauvinism, and avoided such modern movements as surrealism and existentialism, these four synthesize national characteristics and a supra-national outlook. In spite of individual differences, some common characteristics can be pointed out: rejection of traditional structure, fragmentation of experience, the modern mistrust of language and even dissociation of language and experienced reality. Modern man in their works is Camus' exile in the kingdom, where all that affirms life also testifies to its absurdity. To these writers, exile is not a political problem, but both the curse and privilege of every modern man, existentially doomed to be free.

The prose pieces of Ilze Šķipsna and Laima Kalniņa in this issue both deal with the groping for one's own inner truth, for external reality, for one's past, in an attempt to answer the riddle of existence. Šķipsna writes: "most men flee solitude, not for fear of confronting themselves, but because in solitary moments one must discover that one cannot find oneself"; and Kalniņa concludes: "the final answer is silence." A similar sense of loneliness, strangeness, dissociation can be glimpsed in the poems of Aina Zemdega and Baiba Rirdāne; while the search for one's roots and one's past, personal and national, is the theme of poems by Valdis Krāslavietis and Ontons Zvīdris, the latter written in Latgallian dialect.

The cover is by Ilmārs Rumpēters.


I. Š.-L.

Jaunā Gaita