This version of A Suspicious Person is a play based on a play, but also about the play of Branislav Nušić, which is on the list of mandatory texts for every primary school student in Serbia. As one of the most played and most known plays in the history of Serbian dramaturgy, A Suspicious Person is perceived by wider audience as easy, carefree comedy. In this setting, the question about the critical potential of this comedy is asked. Instead of the easiness and carefreeness, this play makes you wonder: in which way does the system accept anti-system art and how do the controversial texts become the classics, texts mandatory in primary schools? We treat A Suspicious Person as a political play, questioning did, and in which measure, the society changed since the moment the play has been written. SORRY NUŠIĆ!
Performers: Zoran Pajić, Jelena Bogavac/Aleksandra Cucić, Isidora Simijonović, Đorđe Živadinović Grgur, Marko Panajotović, Uroš Novović, Aleksandar Vučković, Aleksandar Jovanović i Predrag Vasić
Text and dramaturgy: Milena Bogavac
Original music: Irena Popović Dragović
Movement: Andreja Kulešević
Scene design and costimography: Ana Zarubica
Producer: Aneta Goranović
PR and protocol: Marina Ugrinić
Designe: Sanja Drakulić
Video: Ivan Stojiljković
Photography: Jelena Janković
Community manager: Miloš Krneta
Co-producers: Anja Aranđelović, Oleg Misirača, Stefan Todorović, Vera Jovanović, Zorana Parezanović
Organizator: Jovan Bulat
Production assistent: Bjanka Gabrić
Printing preparation Marko Zuber
Light design: Arijan Igić
Music assistant: Ivan Mirković
Sound: Filip Verkić
We approached Branislav Nušić’s A Suspicious Person as an artefact which witnesses its time and context. This play was a starting point in research of societal circumstances in which it was written, but we tried while adapting to find contemporary equivalents for Nušić’s formal solutions. Similarly, we tried to make sharp parallels between Nušić’s and our Serbia. We discovered that not much has changed, since 19th century until now, but also that some changes did occur, and those were for worse.
From the original text of Branislav Nušić we kept the elements which relate to the present. The rest we adapted, so that they speak about the contemporary moment in the same way Nušić thought about his own époque. Nušić was, in his time, a highly critical writer. In that manner, we believe that he would not be satisfied if his plays were played like in a museum of a sort, in aesthetics that would be appropriate to his time, that is, in a way theatre was perceived when he wrote for it. That is the way that his blade is made dull, his politicality, engagement, and courage, which we perceive as basic features of Nušić’s writing.
The key document in working on the A Suspicious Person was Nušić’s introductory text to this play. In this text, Nušić gives information about his dramaturgical process, but also about the historical circumstances in which it was created and waited thirty six years to its first performance. Topics which Nušić here opens are censorship, auto censorship, and political changes which bring to the boiling point the atmosphere of public life, and how, behind all that noise, clamor, and hype, essentially not much changes.
As Nušić in his preface writes about Gogolj’s influences, we also do not hide the influences of our contemporaries, nor of the authors which worked on political theatre between Nušić’s time and ours. As Nušić boldly reveals historical facts about his contemporaries, we do not deny that many of our contemporaries will recognize themselves in this play. However, not everything is the same. One crucial thing has changed. Dictatorship isn’t implemented by strictly confidential, encrypted telegrams, but publically: by spreading fear, panic, and all-encompassing stupidity and meaningless content via the media.
Exactly for that reason we did not stop on the adaptation, but we have, in dialog with Nušić’s A Suspicious Person, written new implementing text. Our Suspicious Person doesn’t have a happy, but a suspicious ending, because all of the illnesses Nušić correctly diagnosed have metastasized. Regarding that, we believe that it is not enough to use laughter as anesthesia. If we want a healthy society we need more radical, more invasive operations: as in dramaturgy so in politics.
In a yearbook of professional theatres which is published by “Sterijino pozorje” it is written that this is the 195th professional production of the play A Suspicious Person. Amateur, school, and youth adaptations of this play is not possible to count, but it is possible that their number is a four-digit one. Because the content of this play is well known we started to imply it, and hundred and thirty years after it has been written, we leave the theatre happy and smiling because “everything is the same as before”. But why is it so?
Are we happy that we are a society that has the same problems for hundred and thirty years and does it, in fact, mean that we do not want to change? Are we ashamed because the work of this genius writer describes all of our faults, or are we happy because of those faults, so we emphasize them on the grounds of our mentality and culture? The goal of this play is not to say that Nušić is our contemporary, but to ask the question: why are some things unchangeable? Does this society have a wish to change? And what is that that leads us to infinitely many times repeat the same mistakes?
A Suspicious Person is a play about the authority, about the wish for authority, but also about the fear of it; about the need for those in the position of authority to love you, which leads to corruption and censorship. This is also a play about the communication inside the state apparatus and the officials, who are not the service of the populace, but work for themselves, thinking that state service positions are guaranteed. In Serbia, it is believed that authority is personal property with whom everybody does what they wish, and that is the basic mechanism by which the society functions. All these topics are relevant in our country for more than hundred and thirty years, and the new question that we raise is the question of the media: leading the state through media.
We ask about the place of court and justice, police, state apparatus and its clerks when all of the important decisions are made on the front pages. Is Serbia a country where everybody is suspicious? Are we living in a country fearing that we might become suspicious persons, to receive already existing etiquettes, and be ruled on the newsstand instead in the courtroom?
The classic of Serbian dramaturgy, this is the starting point for telling a story about the changes which are ever to be expected in Serbia, but also the story about the geniality of the author who left us treasure as a legacy: serious, comedy opus, from which we learned nothing, expect to laugh and have fun. It is not funny at all! Maybe it never was… with that that, until now, there were no cameras.
Now, every one of us knows that the cameras can, at one point, turn to them and against them… and the state is there to, from the shadows, have control over their movements. It is horrifying, and definitely not funny. Do not laugh at Nušić, but try to understand him!