The Body of a Woman as a Battlefield in the Bosnian War
by Matei Visniec
In a series of both real and surreal vignettes, we follow the relationship that develops between two women: Kate is an American Harvard-trained psychologist working in Bosnia with those digging up the mass graves and recording atrocities after the Bosnian war; Dorra is a mute victim of a politically motivated gang rape (pregnant). At first we believe that Kate is attempting to heal Dorra and she reports on her encounters with her in her diary, speaking with cool scientific detachment. Dorra resists all communication from Kate and is only known to us when she is alone with her hate, anger at God, and determination to end her own life rather than life with the agony of her imminent birthing of a child. Soon we realize that both women are institutionalized in this German hospital, Kate because of her own breakdown after looking at so many mass graves and trying to retrieve corpses and Dorra because of her unwillingness to return to any normal life. In a series of scenes and monologues, the women’s scarred lives become intertwined in both expected and unexpected ways. Ultimately, there is a surprising mutual redemption, leaving the audience with an oddly hopeful ending. The ending is quite powerful despite the weight of the subject matter and the almost predictability of the character evolutions. This is a credit to the playwrights’ ability to seek and find essential truth beyond the specific circumstances, giving the play a philosophical resonance and a true contemplation of the female experience of this brutal male practice.
Matei Visniec was born in Romania in 1956. From an early age, he discovered literature as a space dedicated to freedom. He draws his strengths from Kafka, Dostoevsky, Poe, Lautréamont. He loves the Surrealists, the Dadaists, absurd and grotesque theatre, surrealist poetry, fantastic literature, magical realism, even the realist Anglo-Saxon theatre. He loves everything except Socialist Realism.
Visniec studied philosophy at Bucharest University and became an active member of the so-called Eighties Generation, who left a clear stamp on the Romanian literature. He believes in cultural resistance, and in literature’s capacity to demolish totalitarianism. Above all, Matéi Visniec believes that theatre and poetry can denounce manipulation through "great ideas", as well as brainwashing through ideology.
Before 1987 Matéi Visniec had made a name for himself in Romania by his clear, lucid, bitter poetry. Starting with 1977, he wrote drama; the plays were much circulated in the literary milieus but were barred from staging. In September 1987, Visniec left Romania for France, where he was granted political asylum. He started writing in French and began working for Radio France Internationale. At the present time, Visniec has had many of his works staged in France, and some fifteen of his plays written in French are published (Actes Sud-Papier, L'Harmattan, Lansman). His plays have been staged in more than 20 countries. In Romania, after the fall of Communism, Matéi Visniec has become one of the most frequently performed authors.
The work of Matéi Visniec has been represented in London by the performance "The Body of a Woman as a Battlefield", staged at the Young Vic Theatre, in November 2000. The play received rave reviews in the British newspapers and magazines, including The Guardian. "The Story of the Panda Bears told by a Saxophonist who has a Girlfriend in Frankfurt" will be performed at the Edinburgh Festival (August 2005). The production is by Rouge28 Theatre, London. In Unites States, the work of Matéi Visniec has been represented in New York, Chicago, New Jersey and Hollywood.