With ‘Leaving,’ Vaclav Havel Returns to the American Stage
by Gwen Orel, for The Wall Street Journal's 'Speakeasy'
Václav Havel’s first play in 20 years, “Leaving,” has its American premiere at Philadelphia’s Wilma Theater May 26. Havel’s plays were banned in Czechoslovakia after the Prague Spring of 1968, and have long had a larger following in the West.
Crowds chanted “Havel na hrad”– Havel to the Castle (the seat of power, like the White House)—during the Velvet Revolution, inspired by his dissident essays. He was the tenth and last president of Czechslovakia, and the first president of the Czech Republic.
“Leaving” is about a Chancellor leaving office, with echoes of “King Lear” and “The Cherry Orchard.” Speakeasy spoke with director (and Wilma co-Artistic Director) Jiri Zizka. Zizka left Czechoslovakia in 1976.
The Wall Street Journal: Did you believe Havel would really go back to playwriting after leaving office?
Jiri Zizka: Yes. He had to perform the role of president, because he was the best man for the role. The Velvet Revolution is called the Velvet Revolution is because of Havel, I think. It could have been much more violent. A lot of people were very angry. He said, we have to end that.
Havel puts his own voice in the play as a commentator.
Every writer has a voiceover in his head saying this is not good, that is not good. It’s a very interesting device to put on stage, that conference on the side. And it’s amusing.
Is “Leaving” autobiographical?
Havel started to write the play way before he was president. He was interested in officials leaving offices and seats of power. He drew on some experiences, like when the main character is sorting out his possessions, saying this belongs to me, this belongs to the state. Some people think Mr. Klein is Klaus [Václav Klaus, a strong proponent of free-market capitalism, succeeded Havel in 2003], but Klein is a fictional character. It’s not a play about politics, or Czechoslovakia, it really is about how we leave the things we love.
What attracted you to the play?
I saw the premiere in Prague a few years ago, and wanted to do it. It’s a universal story, about leaving your country, your family, your job. It’s a metaphysical play, like Beckett, Shakespeare, Chekhov—it’s about an experience beyond what is physical. It’s also very funny.
|05/19/2010 - 7:30pm - 06/20/2010 - 2:00pm||U.S. premiere of Havel's Leaving at The Wilma Theater|
|05/26/2010 - 7:30pm||Opening Night of the U.S. Premiere of Havel's Leaving|