the garage

The Annex/ Ellen Stewart Theatre

January 28 - February 7, 2010
Thursday - Saturday at 7:30pm
Sunday at 2:30pm

Tickets $25
purchase tickets online

by Zagreb Youth Theatre of Croatia Performance
Directed by Ivica Buljan
Based on "The Garage" by Zdenko Mesaric

"The Garage" courageously follows its dark thematic material to a shockingly bleak conclusion."
- Backstage

"you can’t deny that The Garage delivers a powerful blow
Time Out New York

"And it pleases me to report that the audience left smiling, invigorated from the experience."

The play, directed by Ivica Buljan, is based on the popular contemporary Croatian novel of the same name by Zdenko Mesaric, which has been described as "moving, dark, cold, Sisyphean." The play will be performed in English and a boxing ring will be set up center-stage. There will be live music by Croatia's most popular hip-hop band and spectacular physical theater. There are eleven actors and six musicians.

Zagreb Youth Theatre (ZYT), one of the oldest theaters of its kind, is located at Teslina 7 in central Zagreb. "Youth" in its name is partly an odd translation from Communist times. In this context, it means "young" art forms, i.e. innovative. But there is another meaning: the ensemble has had equal success with children's plays and highly artistic performances of Croatian and world literature. It is considered the cradle of Croatian theater, since many generations of Croatian theater artists and other cultural leaders have come through its Youth Studio, which is now known as ZYT College. The ensemble's major works include adaptations of such classics of world literature as "Anna Karenina," "Medea," "The Great Gatsby" and "Gulliver's Travels," all staged by Croatian directors. In the last four years, ZYT has received 50 awards in international theater festivals in Brussels, Berlin, Freiburg, Nitra, Moscow, Heidelberg, Wiesbaden, Pitzen, Varna, Helsinki, Beograd, Skopje, Ljubljana and more. ZYT collaborated with the theatre of Jan Fabre in "Requiem for a Metamorphosis," which was presented at the Salzburg Festival in 2007, and "Another Sleepy Dusty Delta Day," which was the opening production of the Avignon Festival in 2008. ZYT is a participant in The Orient Express Theatre Project, which brings together theaters from Turkey, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia and Germany to create a traveling theater laboratory that questions identity and explores concepts of "the other" and "the different" in countries of southeastern Europe, where East meets West.

"The Garage" is a skillful concoction of genres, mixing science fiction and martial arts film with family drama and film noir. While it can stand comparison to cult movies like "Rollerball," "Fight Club" or "Amores Perros," its metaphorical subtext remains anchored in the post-communist horror of modern transition economies. The production merges outright violence with family scenes laden with biblical references and surrealist sequences exploring the volatile subject of euthanasia tourism.

In the play, a ten-year-old boy named Binat lives in a remote dystopian settlement set in a picture-postcard landscape. His father is violent; his mother gravely ill. The father initiates the boy into the world of bloody gladiator-style fighting tournaments at the Garage, a makeshift arena managed by the Bookie and his paramour, The Muscular Blonde. Binat’s career in ultimate fighting should be a way out of poverty for his small family. Meanwhile, at the settlement, the authorities are keenly promoting a pilot project of a tourist resort specializing in euthanasia tourism, where the dying, flocking from all around the world, can enjoy the benefits of state-of-the-art assisted-suicide packages.

Apart from his diabetic mother and alcoholic father, Binat’s only human contact is with The Priest. The Mother tells the boy he had once been in love with her and tried to violate her. In a fit of jealous rage, the boy’s father cut off the man’s ear, whereupon the latter took holy orders and committed his life to the Church.

At The Garage, no opponent is a match for Binat. He beats a boy his own age called The Butcher and a young girl nicknamed The Lady, as well as The Dwarf, a veteran fighter dubbed The Bible, and another called The Fat Angel. As they dream about leaving The Garage for more glamorous arenas in town, the promoters bill the boy as “Claws” on account of his strong hands. While The Father puts him through a grueling training regimen, his mother dies. In a last fight at The Garage, Binat has to face The Dog, a yet unbeaten and particularly bloodthirsty fighter. The boy is severely wounded, his legs torn to shreds, his fighting career over. The Father kidnaps him from the hospital and brings him back to the Garage in a vain attempt to persuade the Bookie and the Muscular Blonde that his son can still get back into the ring. The Priest tries to rescue Binat and take him to a Catholic boarding school, only to get himself killed in the crossfire of a dramatic gun-slinging showdown between The Father and The Bookie.

Based on what might well be the most shocking novel published in Croatia in the recent years, the play evokes themes--euthanasia tourism, gladiator fighting, family violence, child exploitation, social petrifaction and neglect--that trace a striking outline of an unnerving near future. The director, Ivica Buljan explores the spaces of violence and despair, the world of transition that has lost sense of moral and social values and has resorted to wild capital and sadistic exploitation. Stunning physical theater infuses hard-rock energy into powerfully visual, intimate and erotic scenes.

“The Garage” features live performances by The Beat Fleet, Croatia’s foremost hip-hop band. Sets have been designed by the conceptual artist Slaven Tolj. Costume designer is Ana Savi Gecan. The actors are Ksenija Marinkovic, Doris Saric Kukuljica, Nina Vioilic, Barbara Prpic, Sreten Mokrovic, Frano Maskovic, Vedran Zivolic, Gordan Bogan, Sasa Antic and Mladen Badovinac.

Director Ivica Buljan, born in 1965 in Croatia, has directed about thirty plays in Slovenia, Lithuania, France, Belgium, Russia, Montenegro, Italy, Ivory Coast and Croatia. He has had works presented in international theater festivals in France, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Turkey, Venezuela, Austria, Greece, Macedonia, Belgium, Switzerland, Russia, Great Britain, Bulgaria, France, Iran, Poland, Slovakia, Cuba and Albania. He is deeply interested in modernist dramatists and authors such as Marina Tsvetaeva, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Heiner Mueller, Robert Walser, Elfriede Jelinek, Miroslav Krleža and Botho Strauss. Bernard-Marie Koltès is in the center of his authorial interest.

He was director of the Croatian National Drama Theatre in Split from 1998 to 2002 and was co-founder of the Mini Teater in Ljubljana. He is also the co-founder and artistic director of World Theatre Festival in Zagreb. He is a professor in the National Theatre schools in Saint Etienne and Rennes in France and has been a guest professor at Academie experimentalle des theatres in Paris, Brussels and Moscow. His awards include the Dubravko Djušin Award (1997), the Petar Brecic Award (1999), the Peristil Award (2001, for "Oedipus"), the Borštnik Diploma and a Special Award from the Jury (2004), Grand Prix of Tempus Art festival (2004), the Medal of the City of Havana (2005), Golden Lion for the best performances ("Hamlet" 2006, "The Princesse's Drame," 2007), the Borštnik Award for the best Slovenian performance ("Oedipus," 2007; "Macbeth," 2009) and the Sterija Award for the best performance ("Oedipus," 2008).

Backstage Review
by Mitch Montgomery

The first rule of "The Garage" is you do not talk about the Garage. Indeed, the Zagreb Youth Theatre's ferociously violent phantasmagoria, adapted from Zdenko Mesaric's Croatian novel, could probably teach the tough guys from the film "Fight Club" a few things. Not so much a play as a simulated societal meltdown, "The Garage" courageously follows its dark thematic material to a shockingly bleak conclusion.

Young Binat (Vedran Živolic) was reared without education in a dismal future state; his sick mother is dying of diabetes, and his father is an abusive drunk. The local government isn't much better, having hedged all bets on the burgeoning "euthanasia tourism" industry, which allows ailing wretches from around the world to come and be put down in luxurious facilities. In a last ditch effort to earn money, Binat's father enters him in an underground boxing league, where the tough young pugilist takes on boys his own age, women, grown men, and eventually even rabid dogs, while his father plays the odds.

Director Ivica Buljan's harsh staging progresses organically. The actors roam aimlessly during transitions, seem to converge by chance for a scene, and then return to the disorder after. This flux of anarchy and order, paired nicely with the raw music of the Beat Fleet, might echo the way civilizations come and go, but we forget about any kind of commentary during the well-executed adrenalin-fused brawls. The clawing and choking of the fight choreography (by Buljan) is frantic, imprecise, and absolutely gripping.

"The Garage" concerns itself with far-reaching themes of child abuse and ethics, but it succeeds more in presenting sympathetic characters. Zivolic imbues the largely silent Binat with unconfined joy and rage and ably switches between the two. In addition, Ksenija Marinkovic depicts Binat's mother with determined affection, while Frano Maskovic characterizes the boy's volatile father with zeal.

Time Out New York - A Croatian Import Arrives Ready to Fight
by Paul Menard

Don’t let the company name fool you: Zagreb Youth Theatre’s brutally nihilistic The Garage is anything but kid’s stuff. The actors aren’t the only ones getting smacked around in this viscerally assaultive Croatian import centered on extreme-fighting-style tournaments. By evening’s end, audience members will also be reeling from this theatrical punch to the gut.

Ten-year-old Binat (Vedran Zivolic) is an autistic-savant brawling machine, so talented that his father pimps him out at the Garage, a seedy Chuck Palahniuk–style fight club, in the hopes of escaping poverty. Doted on by his sickly mother (Ksenija Marinkovic), the mostly mute Binat tortures his father’s hogs and obsessively draws pigs all over the sparse stage. It’s a fitting image, as Mesaric’s unflinching script (adapted from his novel of the same name) paints a grim picture of economic survival in postcommunist Croatia. This is a world where humans wallow in their own squalor as they viciously wrestle for a place at the trough.

Director Ivica Buljan imbues the production with a punk-rock Grotowski aesthetic, combining raw physicality with live Croatian hip-hop band the Beat Fleet. Staged around gym mats evoking a boxing ring, Buljan creates a deliberately chaotic production where Eastern European alienation simultaneously diffuses narrative while amping up emotional impact. Of course, story takes a backseat to theatricality; a subplot involving euthanasia tourism never really clicks. But when Binat finally finds his voice—singing a rage-filled thrash-metal indictment—you can’t deny that The Garage delivers a powerful blow.—Paul Menard Review
by Robert Weinstein

Zagreb Youth Theatre's production of The Garage, based on a novel and adapted for the stage by Croatian writer Zdenko Mesaric, takes place in a picturesque Croat tourist town specializing in euthanasia. This is not a misprint. Tourists from around the world travel there to "enjoy the benefits of state-of-the-art assisted suicide packages." The town, as presented in the play, has no industry other than this tourism and the lack of economic incentive leads the country to pay its poverty-stricken citizens a stipend to live there. Death and decay are everywhere and have created a seedy environment with little hope or opportunity.

The play follows Binat, a nine-year old boy who lives in the town with his violent father (billed as The Father) and diabetic mother (The Mother). Binat is introduced at the town's sole source of entertainment: he's the chief attraction at the no-holds-barred ultimate fighting matches that take place at The Garage, a crude arena set up by a character identified as The Bookie and his girlfriend, The Muscular Blonde. These matches represent a chance for Binat to lift his family from their dire circumstances. The more Binat wins, the more money they make and successive victories can lead to bigger and better venues that would provide treatments for The Mother's disease.

Binat's home life prepares him for a life inside the ring. His father goes on drinking binges and peppers him with jabs, slaps, bites, and insults. He turns rewards into punishments by lovingly offering him chocolate and then stuffing it down his throat. His affectionate mother soothes his bruises with whiskey and launches into hurtful diatribes as a result of her low blood sugar. The world around him—its poverty, its vindictiveness, its ability and desire to mine his talents—exploit him for money. Such influences create a feral man-child constantly at the ready to defend himself against viciousness both in and out of the ring.

While it may seem depressing, The Garage is dynamic and compelling. Mesaric and director Ivica Buljan clothe their despair with musicality and desperate affection. There is a tremendous amount of affection between Binat and The Mother. There are several entertaining musical interludes—TBF, a Croatian band, sits on the stage and scores the show—my favorite being the punked-out jingle advertising the settlement, "Death Is Not The End." There is also a sweet and sensual dance number between Binat and a young woman that provides him and the audience welcome respite from the cruelty at work on stage, making the inherent despair more palatable.

But just barely. The Garage presents an incredibly bleak world and Buljan drives it at a relentless pace. The energy is explosive but keeping his foot on the accelerator means there's not time to process the view. This can lead to an overwhelming experience such as the one my friend had, when she later asked, "Why do people like theatre like this?"

It's a good question. The Garage is raw. It's smart, sloppy, and full of mean and brutal episodes—The Father sells his son for sex he doesn't really want; The Father spits chocolate on The Mother which Binat then eats off her neck; The Father holds a razor to Binat's neck. (Paging Dr. Freud.) But what gives the production punch, what gives it nerve, are the times when a simple emotion springs up: a moment of affection, a hand reaching out to help, a genuine act of kindness. You root for the kindness to take hold; you watch it squirm as it's gleefully tossed about; and you bear witness when it is overwhelmed and smashed into a broken, more helpless form.

The Garage gives shape, form, music, and voice to the parts of ourselves that break and the parts that are broken. And it pleases me to report that the audience left smiling, invigorated from the experience.



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