Right after having performed at the Avignon festival, the play Sonja is coming to the 42nd Bitef 08! The Lithuanian director Alvis Hermanis, already for ten years the director of the New Riga Theater, has won worldwide acclaim with his play "A Long Life“(performed at the 39th Bitef), a collective creation without previously determined text, dealing with the subject of aging.
Sonja is a hyper-realistic melodrama derived from a story by the contemporary Russian writer Tatyana Tolstaya, a miniature with two actors in a precisely reconstructed interior of Leningrad in the 40's. However, you are gravely mistaken if you happen to think that this is a dry, naturalistic play, even though Hermanis plays with naturalism, as well as with some other stylistic and genre registers: melodrama, burlesque, pantomime... The play is actually full of deviations both of formal and semantic levels (the lead female role is being played by a man, for instance!)
However, Sonja is a warm and gentle story of a lonely woman, of her dull reality, of rich dreams, and of her sad and ludicrous fate; about how each of us has the right to fully live out his search for happiness, love and passion, even if the only opportunity presented to us is but a mere practical joke.
The character created by T. Tolstaya combines huge contrasts: ugly appearance and very sensitive inner world, hard life and delicate sole. I have entrusted a male actor to reveal these opposite poles. It is not an aim in itself – to turn into a woman. This is more the issue of understanding a woman. We are not playing a woman, we are trying to create a female image, character and tell about her soul. I doubt whether a soul can have a gender.
What the critics say...
At the beginning, everything seems so regular. Innumerable junk borrowed from antique shops and grandma’s households, nostalgically stinging and clumsily marginal human being, who messes about with food and who has lost any gender characterising differences and with who it is impossible to identify oneself with. And then gradually you realise that this time it is for real. That all the blocks have fallen into their right places. That there is not even a hint of refined, sophisticated cheating on behalf of the director. That you enjoy being twisted round the finger, if it is done in such an exquisite, smart, simple and humane way. That it would be as difficult to eliminate the pettifoggery and grandness of a human being as it is to catch butterflies by brandishing a spade.
Evita Mamaja (Latvijas teātru Ābolu ķocis – daily newspaper Diena, 19.04.2006)
Alvis Hermanis (Born in 1965), educated as an actor at the Theatre department of Latvian State Conservatoire. In his performances A.Hermanis often plays with different concepts of post-modern aesthetics, signs, images and symbols of the Eastern and Western cultures. His performances are very different aesthetically, but all of them are characterised by perfect sense of form, stile and epoch. His theatre is a quest for new experience and new limits of reality, involving audio and visual arts – using video projections, slides and phonograms. He has also been the playwright, stage designer and an actor in his own productions. His productions have participated in international theatre festivals in Great Britain, Poland, Russia, Estonia, Lithuania, Austria, Slovakia, Finland, France, Belgium, Switzerland, Canada, Italy, Germany, Netherlands, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Serbia, the USA and other countries.
At Salzburger Festspiele 2003 A.Hermanis received Young Directors Project Award (Max Reinhardt’s pen).
Europe Theatre Prize for the New Theatre Reality, Thesseloniki, Greece
Since 1997 artistic director of New Riga Theatre.
Parallel to his work at the New Riga Theatre A. Hermanis has staged plays in Von Krahli Teatter Tallinn, Estonia (Šalajased pildid II, Loomav Pimedus, 1994), at the Latvian National Opera (Fire and Night, 1996), Schauspielfrankfurt (Kollektives Lesen eines Buches mit Hilfe der Imagination in Frankfurt, 2005), Schauspielhaus Zürich (The Blazing Darkness, by A. Buero – Vallejo, 2006; Fathers, 2007; Idiot. The Beginning of the Novel, by Dostoevsky 2008) Schauspielhaus Köln (Cologne Affairs, 2008).