School of Drama highlights Balkan region in play
By Andrew McGinn
Pentecost opens February 20.
On February 20, the UW School of Drama’s production of Pentecost, written by British playwright David Edgar opened to the public. Director and student Andrew McGinn chose this parable as his thesis project and shares his thoughts on the play with the REECAS Newsletter.
Part of my task in directing this play is to portray the struggles for cultural and national identity authentically, but without asserting the claims of any particular culture or nation. As such, Pentecost takes place in a Balkan country that is purely symbolic. It is an un-named former Soviet-satellite state in the greater Balkan region in the early 1990s that has within it ethnic conflicts akin to those of the former Yugoslavia. I would like to directly address the play’s choices — which as director I take on as my own — as they relate to the diverse nations of the greater Balkan geographical region.
The name of the fictional Balkan country is “Our Country.” The play goes to great lengths describing geography that is obviously imagined, and the names of the characters in “Our Country” are drawn from across the entire Balkan region, including the former Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and Romania. Such impossible references we may all find laughable — this imagined country borders both Germany and Turkey. Moreover, the play jumbles the history of the former Yugoslavia and the former Eastern Bloc. It does so blatantly to make the country’s history and people just as impossible to factually accept as the geography. While “Our Country” is a patchwork meant to dismiss any perception of representing a real and recognized country, it does so in order to bear witness to the greater region’s struggles for sovereignty, and unique position as the crossroads — or battlements — between the Eastern and Western powers and cultures. The liberties of the play facilitate artistic exploration of the issues at hand without being tied to historical specificities. It is a symbolic, not accurate, portrait.
As such, I anticipate criticism of generalizing the greater Balkan region in Pentecost, and at every opportunity — including before the play each night — I rush to make the point that if the audience is looking for historical or geographical authenticity, they will be factually misinformed. I’m confident this point will be made clearly in the program, by efforts such as this, and by the play itself.
Even if clarifications about “Our Country” are missed and an audience member takes lines such as “bordering Germany to the north and Turkey to the south” literally, that misinformed audience member will still leave the production with a greater value for the region’s struggles for sovereign independence.
Because the play asserts the dignity and significance of the greater Balkans while representing no real culture or nation, I recommend to all of us who have friends, students and acquaintances still struggling to understand irony that we simply hand them this play. Irony is often not funny, but irony does always make one think, and makes us work to understand why it is what it is. As such, Pentecost will catalyze interest in the region. Meanwhile, the play is a parable that points to art as empirical evidence of our species’ capacity for compassion, while urgently recognizing the validity of ancient subsided or continuing ethnic and national conflicts. I expect the audience to become more curious about real history as a result of Pentecost, and recognize their own compassion for peoples and cultures about which they do not know. I aim to do my part in sparking an urge to learn about the richness and history of these diverse nations and peoples from proper sources such as the REECAS Center and artists from the greater region itself.
Andrew is a master’s of fine art directing candidate in the UW School of Drama.