Long Live the Revolution

Theater can be many things -- it can be an escapist evening of entertainment, it can speak about important social and political issues, it can raise serious and provocative questions, it can imbue people with a sense of hope. What is rare from a performance piece is that it be all of these things at the same time. Revolution!?, written and directed by Pavel Dobruský and Vít Horejš, is the epitome of the combination of all of these elements. It is at turns funny, poignant, relevant, and an all-around thrill to watch. The play is a loose collection of scenes that all present different historical instances of political revolution. This idea, though compelling on its own, might not prove a source for great dramatic literature. But when paired with the best of performance aesthetics and techniques, the recipe it engenders is for brilliant and meaningful theater.

The piece opens with humor; a funny rendering of the little man being continually put down by the bigger one. From here, the journey the play takes us on is a fascinating one. The ensemble traces important revolutionary moments -- from Prometheus to Spartacus to the Boston Tea Party and beyond -- through the use of various performance elements. There is almost no text (and of the text that there is, much is not in English), but the stories come across loud and clear. We see these instances come alive through the actors' bodies, through the use of puppets, through song, dance, juggling, stiltwalking, and the like.

The lack of dialogue reminds the viewer about universals. Play this piece in any country, regardless of its mother tongue, and the narratives have the potential to be understood. Nearly every nation has faced a revolutionary struggle, be it a success or a failure, and nearly every human has grappled with the struggle for freedom from some controlling force. Performance is also a universal; we are all capable of being entertained by the same things. No matter our homeland, we all share certain bonds. These bonds can be used to enact great change.

This play depicts the human facing the worst of situations and finding ways to stand up for him or herself. The humans we see before us on stage evoke one level of this experience and the use of generic wooden puppets emphasize another. They are faceless, identityless personas, yet their manipulation on stage makes them seem to be unique individuals. When they are tossed aside or vanquished, the pain is still visceral. Their presence suggests the multitude of unrecognized individuals who fight for good in the world regardless of the long-term consequences.

Despite powerful and disturbing moments, this play also evokes delight and brings a smile to a spectator's face. There are individual visual images that are entirely unforgettable: the floor strewn with bodies that must be revived; a young woman writhing around a desk avoiding questions about the Russian Revolution; the final vision of the performers standing in solidarity, shaking their keys, about to change their nation's history.

Revolution!? leaves an indelible impression on anyone who bears witness to it. It is powerful material rendered in a most enjoyable manner. It shows us how powerful the individual can be when she stands with others. Change can, and does, come if people perform.

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