Teatri Oda, Prishtina, premiered on 14th March 2022
What looks to be gjama, an Albanian grief ritual and an expression of mourning, is being performed on stage. The actors spread around the theatre, some hopping on the scaffold of the set, while a ghost-like costume, a silver square-sequined vest, hang unmoving, unoccupied, over the stage.
Kneeling down, hitting their chests, their mouths open as if screaming, the actors transmit emotions of uneasiness to the audience. The grey smoke of loss fogs the atmosphere. It touches families and develops into the personal stories of all of those who ever experienced loss in their lives.
A woman can’t accept the death of her husband. She does everything like she used to do, but continues to feel her lover’s presence around her, everywhere, all the time.
Another woman sees visions of her lover brushing his teeth. Another one swears she’s never going to put makeup on again and removes the mirror from her room.
There is also a couple who lost their daughter while she was returning from school. They keep blaming themselves and each other about what happened, The shadow of guilt follows them every day.
Some of the actors, who often work together as an ensemble, also play these individual roles. The wailing cries that come occasionally from the loudspeaker, together with Donika Rudi’s well executed music, intensify the dramatic effect.
Unable to get back to everyday routine of chores and duties, these people can’t get back to normalcy without constantly thinking about their losses. The dialogue contains a metaphorical discussion of pain. Are we willing to see pain as a storm which roots up trees from the earth, demolishes houses and submerges entire towns, or we would rather see it as a river made of air that keeps running through the life of each of us?
“I am not alone.” This statement is spoken aloud simultaneously by the actors, as they later mention the names of the people they’ve lost, touching the soul of each person sitting in the theatre.
Written and directed by Florent Mehmeti and co-authored with Lirak Çelaj and Matt Opatrny, Pas’humbja conveys a message of not taking death and pain personally, rather detaching ourselves from the river of pain and sorrow and going on to experience new emotions.
Following scenes of desperation and gloom, the music of birds chirping, of nature, pervades the stage. The same people whom we saw wailing and mourning before, now appear in front of us dancing, playing games with each other and laughing. They seem to have never heard of sorrow. They resemble happy animals in the jungle.
“Trying to avoid pain is like trying to catch the fog with your hand”, one says. In fact, this is how the thoughts of those in pain can appear. It is a fog that doesn’t allow them to see the beauty of the sky.
Via some powerfully written dialogue, the play invites us to feel the presence of our loved ones in the beauties of the earth, in grass, sky and sun. The silver square-sequined vest now makes the ceiling look like a sky full of stars and the ghost seems to have found peace with the dead and the living.
The play contains a dedication to the deceased Etrit Mehmeti and Ukshin Krasniqi, who contributed to the work of ODA Theater for 17 years. We are told this by Labinot Raci at the end, as he calls out their names along with ‘father’, asking the audience to put their hands up and say the names of those they’ve lost.
Most of the people in the audience hesitate to do this, but I can already hear noses running around me and feel tears run slowly down my own face. Without ever losing someone close to me, I was overwhelmed by emotions, by the feeling of such a pain.
It is here when the play melts its artifice into real feelings of loss, and becomes a dedication not only to those already gone, but to all the people who will one day lose us and whom we will one day lose.
The ending is triumphant, not because it ends with a cliche, a happy ending, but because it transmits a greater message about the necessity of coping with pain and continuing one’s life.
The sun rises once again and the couple who lost their daughter become parents again, with a daughter whom they name after the sun. One of the women starts wearing makeup, while the other one, for the first time, goes to the grocery store, buying the stuff that she needs to make dinner. Her friends celebrate happily her “little” victory.
It seems that all the people who lost someone, overcame their feelings of pain by letting them run through them. They admitted to themselves that things will never be the same again, but life will continue running with its never-ending rivers of all different sorts. As the writer Helen Seiner said in her poem: There is no night without a dawning/ No winter without a spring/And beyond the dark horizon/Our hearts will once more sing.
Author and director: Florent Mehmeti
Co-authors of the text: Lirak Çelaj & Matt Opatrny
Assistant director: Daniela Markaj
Visual concept and lighting design: Yann Perregaux-Dielf
Music: Donika Rudi
Singing: Kaltrina Miftari, Qëndresa Jashari, Zana Berisha
Costumes: Martina Shtufi
For tickets and further information visit TeatriOda.com
Further reading: review of Stiffler at Teatri Oda