Kunst Teatar, Zagreb, premiere 19th October 2023
You can be anything… if you belong to the right class, if you have the right skin colour, if you have a strong enough passport in your pocket, if you have a support network to encourage and nourish your talents and help you ride over the bumps in life.
You can be anything… if you are of the right sex and gender, by which I mean not a girl.
The new Kunst production, written and directed by Ivana Vuković, targets this last “if”. With the support of the dramaturg Nina Gojić and two young actresses Lana Meniga and Nikolina Prkačin, Vuković makes her debut as director with this so-called “women’s show” – because a show about “women’s’ issues”, featuring a female cast and creative team must be a “women’s show” while other shows are just “shows”.
Vuković uses exaggeration and overemphasis to explore a world that prints “feminism” with glittery letters on high street fashions while the women who are finally “free” to be anything they want, are still segregated in their own playing field. Or, if they overstep their territory and dive into other discourses not expected of them, they get a foul. Vuković lets this harsh reality in through the door in an unapologetic way. For, even though the feminists of the 20th century “won the battle” and women are in the most parts of the world allowed to be educated and be part of the workforce, we are continuously presented with the fact that this battle is far from over (or even that we have been cheated). Since the right to abortion is still contested on a daily basis even in today’s “progressive” Europe and some communities still don’t allow women to exit the house without the company of a man, are we truly living in an egalitarian society where it doesn’t matter whether you are born a girl or a boy?
Interestingly, for the most part, Vuković thematises something even more subtle, something almost omnipresent in young democratic societies like Croatia, that are still struggling to adhere to new found liberties. These are the fine notes of language that are almost unnoticeable in their everydayness, the things hidden in our customs and habits – like how we call on girls to be polite, compliment them on how cute they are, remind them one day they will make some man a happy husband, warn them not to be hysterical, complicated, too demanding, too loud… because the beauty of having a girl in the house means you will always have someone obedient to lean on and listen to you. This is something which Vuković and the cast explain perfectly in the “banana episode” – in which a banana is constantly being touched, squeezed, grabbed while another banana is left in peace; which banana do we expect to look more healthy in the end?
Meniga and Prkačin play Lenu and Mara, who are everything that society doesn’t want a girl to be. They’re energetic, uncontrollable, wild, they make up their own rules, only to break them the next minute. They talk about abortion, about witches, about periods, about sons and daughters, widows who aren’t widows until the body of the husband is found, the castration of women, and all the “wombs” which don’t want to have, which have and which can’t have children… Nothing is off limits in the play-world.
When they become bored, they always have a sexist joke up the sleeve. They don’t curate what kind of narrative they will present to us: it’s all the stories they heard on the TV, in their neighbourhood, even in their homes from fathers around the table having their five minutes of glory or mothers gossiping over a cup of coffee. It’s the invisibility of the patriarchal society’s language codes that Lenu and Mara grasp so clearly. But it’s not only Lenu and Mara who are playing this role-playing game – it’s also Lana and Nikolina, the two actresses.
Potentially the most precious thing about the You Can Be Whatever You Want is its complete lack of order in terms of storytelling or the lack of a clear line between where one identity ends and the other begins for the performers. In the blink of an eye, Meniga and Prkačin switch between themselves as actresses and their characters, and their characters playing characters. It’s as chaotic as a children’s game, continuously blurring the lines between the layers of reality and/or who is the owner of which story. In the end, these are all the stories we already heard somewhere, are somehow familiar and these women just remind us we have exposed them to those stories at one point.
The small stage of the Kunst is once again cleared so that the light of young comedians can shine. You Can Be Whatever You Want fits with the informally established aesthetics of this little theatre – you don’t need much else on the stage when there is such quality play between the performers. And Meniga and Prkačin don’t need much to build their universe beside some chalk. They are unapologetic masters of the ceremony, expertly playing with the audience. And, for the course of the show at least, they will do whatever they want. And if you need more than that, perhaps some beginning or a conclusion, well, they don’t really care.
My only regret is that they didn’t go even more crazy and wild, really erasing all the lines they should stay within. But then again, maybe if they did that, they would lose the power of truly being whatever they want to be, to become what we expect a “radical feminist” to look like. It’s an open question with an ambiguous answer, just like it’s an open show with an ambiguous structure.
Author and director: Ivana Vuković//Dramaturg: Nina Gojić//Producer: Romana Brajša//Costume: Ana Fucijaš
Cast: Lana Meniga and Nikolina Prkači
For tickets and further information, visit: KunstTeatar.hr