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The English language production by Sydney-based director Romana Petrusic of Croatian playwright Miro Gavran’s futuristic 2012 comedy, “The Doll”, had already been seen in Sydney and Brisbane, with plans for seasons in WA, Melbourne and Adelaide. But it was the one-night showing here that had members of the Canberra Croatian community proudly heralding the product as an expression of their cultural sophistication, fit for the nation’s capital.
And with good reason.
Viewed from one perspective, Gavran could be seen as the Croatian David Williamson. But his international reputation is formidable and for the past 20 years, Gavran has been the most-performed Croatian playwright both at home and abroad, translated into 35 languages and the “GavranFest”, devoted to his works alone, was held this year in Prague.
“The Doll”, performed here in English, opens when 39-year-old loser Marco can’t work the remote on the new android “woman” he’s had delivered to get around his problems with real women.
But as in the play’s more famous forbear, “RUR” (“Rossum’s Universal Robots”, from which we got the word “robot”), sometimes a doll can be more perceptive than a man, so the delightfully perverse “doll” of the title, Stella (“I’m not programmed to do that,” she asserts repeatedly) teaches Marco a thing or two about how to behave.
Women as main characters represent a constant in Gavran’s works, like “All about Women” and “All about Men”, with Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House” providing the inspiration for Gavran’s “Nora Today”, and he has repeatedly asserted that women are more interesting as literary characters because they have been less often the literary subject.
The script for “The Doll” is full of comedy relating to the philosophical and psychological problems thrown up by Artificial Intelligence.
Feminism certainly gets a look in, since Stella has been designed by offstage female scientist Barbara, who has programmed in her own view of male-female relationships. No surprise for guessing that Marco gradually becomes aware of his shortcomings.
Petrusic’s artfully-directed portable production, presented by the cultural organisation Croatia House, could well be the prototype for small-scale tours of new plays from overseas. Modest in scale, it relies on convincing portrayals by the two professionally-trained Sydney actors Jasynda Radanovic as “the doll” and Firdaws Adelpour as Marco.
Although the play’s episodic structure necessitated hiatuses between scenes, the two performers convincingly enacted the contrast between the programmed doll, Stella, and the equally programmed (by society), Marco. Radanovic captured Stella’s’ doll-like qualities with a bright, sharp style that contrasted well with Adelpour’s stolidly mournful portrayal of male self-satisfaction.
No doubt Croatia House will return to Canberra with more productions. If, like “The Doll”, they are performed in English, there is likely to be a wider theatre audience for them.