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There are literally
hundreds of reviews and because of their number they cannot be posted
on this site. Please look them up in the appropriate language on the
Web using the name Hristo Boytchev.
Cornelia Niedermeier, "Der Vogelflung der Phantasie", Der
Standart, January 25, 1999
Matthias Greuling, "Pulverfass Irrehauss", Die Neue Furche
"Flieg, Oberst, flieg!", ORF o1 Magazin, January 22,
"Balkan Blues erstmals im deutschen Sprachraum",
January 27, 1999
"Groteske im Irrenhaus", Kronen Zeitung,
January 25, 1999
"Militar und Irrenhaus", Neue Zeit,
January 23, 1999
Lona Chernel, "Vom Irrwitz in der Welt", Wiener Zeitung,
January 25, 1999
"Beflugelter Balkan Blues", Die Presse,
January 25, 1999
R. Wagner, "Botschaft der Sehnsucht", Neues Volksblatt,
January 28, 1999
"Grotesker Gruss des Balkans", Kurier,
February 4, 1999
Marina Castelova, "Plukovnik Ptak oslavuje NATO a 40 let Divadla
Na Zabradli", Lidove noviny, 11 December, 1998
umet bibnout az do skonani, rika reziser Petr Lebl", MF DNES,
8 December, 1998
Radka Prchalova, "Divadlo Na Zabradli zije hlavne Bulharskem
a vstupem do NATO", MF DNES, 10 October, 1998
Ivan Medenitza, "Puchka comedia", Politica, April 6,
Jelko Yovanovich, "Poslushni voynitzi zlih gospodara",
Nasha borba, April 8, 1998
Petar Volk, "Pukovnik ptitza", Illustrovana politica,
April 12, 1998
M.O. Dragash, "Let iznad srtza Balkana", Beogradske novine,
May 22, 1998
"Sezoni i zamahi", Nezavisni, April 10, 1998
Aleksandar Milosavlevich, "Tri sna o srechi", Vreme, April
"Ludazi marshirayu", Dnevni telegraf, April 7, 1998
Dragina Boshkovich, "Petdeset godina i simbolichno", Politica
Express, April 4, 1998
Jelko Hubach, "Velika igra", Danas, April 4, 1998
Miloslav Mirkovich, "Potroshena metafora", Vecherne novosti,
April 4, 1998
Sl. Vuchkovich, "Ko ye ovde lud?", Novosti, April 4, 1994
Vladimir Stamenkovich, "Angajman dushe", NIN, April 9,
||THEATER | REVIEW
Vol. 6 No. 11 November 17 -23, 2000
One Crazy Bird
by Joel Beers
While the state incarcerates and ignores the insane, art has often
treated them as they were generally treated in the Middle Ages.
According to Michel Foucault’s groundbreaking Madness and
Civilization, before the advent of the Age of Reason, the mad were
viewed as fools; idiot or criminal, they nonetheless possessed a
kind of secret knowledge of a world unbound by reason and morality.
Shakespeare’s Fool in King Lear, Cervantes’ Don Quixote and Ken
Kesey’s Randall P. MacMurtry are three popular examples. Add to
this list Fetisov, the heroic colonel in Bulgarian playwright Hristo
Boytchev’s farce, The Colonel Bird.
Set against the backdrop of the Balkan wars of the 1990s, Boytchev’s
farce begins in a decrepit monastery in an isolated mountain region.
Even the nuns have fled, leaving behind six charges in various states
of madness. A supposed doctor (a suitably wry Chris McCool) whose
madness truly is chemical—he’s a junkie—is assigned
to work with the patients.
What truly sets things into motion is the discovery of dozens of
United Nations humanitarian-aid boxes mistakenly dropped in the
vicinity of the monastery. Among the candy bars and powdered milk
are genuine-issue United Nations peacekeeping uniforms. This discovery
transforms a previously catatonic patient, a former Russian colonel
(a commanding Carl Reggiardo), into a man possessed of firm conviction
and noble aspirations. He declares the monastery a free state. Of
course, he’s absolutely nuts. But he’s gloriously nuts.
The strength of his vision is potent enough to liberate and motivate
his fellow patients into a quixotic quest across the war-ravaged
Balkans in order to meet their destinies as free men and women in
the so-called free West.
It’s a fascinating setup that never quite realizes its potential.
The play suffers from structural deficiencies: halfway through,
the engaging doctor becomes a dramatic afterthought. Still, it’s
a provocative, entertaining piece of theater with plenty to occupy
Director Adrian Giurgea supplies an intriguing vision in this California
Repertory production. The Edison Theatre is laid out with seats
on either side of the space; the action takes place in the middle.
This forces the audience to look down on the action, creating an
experience like something out of a Roman gladiator fight. (Insert
appropriate props here for set designer Walid Ameer and light designer
Giurgea captures a gloomy, foreboding tone that makes the play’s
darkly ironic humor funnier. Giurgea also elicits strong performances
from the talented ensemble, all of whom have ample moments to shine.
The honest performances and firm direction add to the mix in this
already rich play. It may take a long time to really get going,
but The Colonel Bird offers an often fascinating ride that carries
the viewer to places all too often dismissed by most playwrights
—including our most basic concepts of sanity. Like others
in this genre of madness, Boytchev’s play seems to reject
a firm line between sanity and insanity. Set against the backdrop
of war, his characters’ idealistic quest for community with
the larger "sane" world outside is all the more poignant.
How can any civilization that regularly engages in the irrational
abomination of war call a person insane when his only crime is hiding
beneath a bed because he’s afraid he’ll be stepped on?
The answer, of course, is that in good conscience, it can’t.
The sad reality is that it does.
It’s all about power, as Foucault argued. And power is what these
abandoned and forgotten patients lack—until their crazy colonel
gives it to them by convincing them that the world they inhabit,
while not accessible to the so-called sane, is just as valid, just
as real and just as valuable. And ultimately and sadly, just as
impossible to live in peacefully.
COLONEL BIRD BY California REPertory AT THE EDISON THEATRE
Daily News Entertainment Editor September 19, 2000
When lunatics are running the asylum, you generally have cause for
concern. Sometimes, however, lunatics have the right idea.
a.. What: “The Colonel Bird”
b.. Where: Pittsburgh Playhouse
c.. When: Through Oct. 8
d.. Box Office: 412-621-4445
That’s one of the underlying themes in “The Colonel Bird,” kicking
off Pittsburgh Playhouse Repertory Company’s season.
Set in the political loony bin that’s the Balkans, “Colonel
Bird” deals with a faux doctor who does his best doctoring by
doing the least. He’s largely an observer/convert as a messianic
soldier causes fellow inmates to toe the line and seek unity (birds
of a feather) with the whole of mankind.
“Line” is the operative
word. The Colonel hands his disturbed troops a line that happens to
jive nicely with Judeo-Christian thought. He also promotes the military
concept of shortest distance between two points (thin red line, long
gray line, line in the sand...), one that, in this particular case,
is a lifeline.
The idea is that society needs rules; the military, through inherent
control, requires that rules be followed. The army, then, can be a
force for salvation rather than destruction. It also can be a threat:
when non-uniformed control fails, those who wave the flag may be tempted
to step in and take control.
The doctor/narrator (John Amplas), who has problems of his own, is
assigned to an out-of-the-line-of-fire storage facility for mental
patients. It’s kind of like dropping into prison with the “Man
of La Mancha,” because the result basically is the same: man
with a plan focuses the masses, who proceed on a spiritual crusade.
The charismatic Colonel (his bird aspect is symbolic of rising above,
of breaking the bonds, of ascending in a heavenly manner) is played
in a focused, earnest way by John Shepard. He’s proof that clothes
make the man, and men, and sometimes a woman (Mary Rawson, as the
Reveling in the absurdity of their situation are the patients whose
lives are altered by manna from the heavens, led by the always fun
Joe Schulz as the Actor, John Gresh as the Thief, Philip Winters as
the Corporal and Kevin Lageman as the wee little guy.
One part of the set is the doctor’s office, which looks as though
it was whited-out by the powers that were. Main play area is a collapsed
monastery (symbolic of the crumbling of the Yugoslav confederation),
whose Rube Goldberg-like reassembly represents reconciliation.
Or, restoring what once had been suggests Lincoln was right: a house
divided can’t be driven down the street (take my word for it,
that makes sense). And whoever thought that dropping the Playhouse
temperature to late February levels should be commended for the goosebump-inspiring
Bottom Lines: “The Colonel Bird,” which drags on a little too long,
perches on the line that an enforced uniting of ethnic groups is likely
to result in conflict, but that the idea of a united nations, in which
membership is voluntary, is worth ignoring borders to achieve.
For all its flights of fancy, “Bird” takes solid shots
at geopolitics, argues that feelings of impotence can be salved
by governmental intervention. Playwright Hristo Boytchev obviously
agrees with the above-mentioned man from La Mancha’s position
that it’s madder to see life as it is rather than as it should
Entertainment - The Arts - September 19, 2000
Playhouse opens season with vibrant `Colonel Bird'
By Alice T. Carter
TRIBUNE-REVIEW THEATER CRITIC
Every great society is a game with set rules, explains a character
in "The Colonel Bird." To be considered sane, all you
have to do is obey those rules.
That's the organizing principle behind Hristo Boytchev's "The
Colonel Bird," which had its American premiere as the opening
production of the Pittsburgh Playhouse Repertory Company's 2000-01
season. In it, the inmates of an insane asylum in an isolated monastery
somewhere in the Balkans save their sanity by learning to function
as a UN Task Force. The philosophy is, of course, as plausible as
it is unworkably simplistic: Just tell that patient to stop listening
to those voices in his head. That's like suggesting that all that's
needed for world peace is for people to get along with each other.
The "what" is easy to articulate. It's the "how"
that's tricky to implement.
Of course, Boytchev doesn't expect to be taken literally. His Balkan
insane asylum and its inmates are a microcosm and metaphor for the
political bedlam that's been raging more or less continually in
that southeast corner of Europe since at least the early 1800s and
at regular intervals around the world since the Tower of Babel failed
its stress test. A fake doctor down to his last 10 ampules of morphine
takes over an isolated asylum in the mountains of Bosnia/Herzegovina/Serbia/Montenegro
or thereabouts. His haphazard attempts to create order fail as inmates
wait for supplies from a relief truck that will never arrive. Crates
of uniforms and food are mistakenly dropped nearby. The patients
don the clothing and are mistaken for soldiers by a paranoid schizophrenic
who imagines himself as a colonel. He organizes them into a self-proclaimed
nation, and they set out to establish diplomatic links.
Director Jonathan Eaton succeeds best when he plays out this tale
seriously and simply. The show is least successful when it lapses
into total metaphor with Scott Wise's choreography in the second
act. Eight dancers clad in white wispy costumes emerge brandishing
feathery doves on long poles overhead. It's a poetic, visually hopeful
moment, but an unnecessary distraction. He's also supported by Danila
Korogodsky's expressionistic set, which begins as a stage littered
with a jumble of towers and walls that are used for beds and other
furniture. Andrew David Ostrowski's evocative lighting plays nicely
off the rising mists of the opening scene, then supports the mood
shifts from dejected resignation to confident action.
As order gains supremacy, the pieces assemble themselves into a
miniature monastery and then transform into the tank that transports
this diplomatic band into the larger world. But the real interest
in this piece is in its performances. Eaton is blessed with a company
of talented, committed professional performers who bring nuance
and understanding to their characters. Kevin Lageman and Philip
Winters turn in remarkably fine performances subtly shaded with
minute details and never flagging reality. Joe Schulz's performance
as the actor-turned-soldier is as restrained as it is rewarding
to watch. Mary Rawson's customs office/whore travels the greatest
emotional arc in a distinctly rendered, perceptive performance that
would be difficult to ignore even if she were not the play's sole
John Amplas functions seamlessly as the play's narrator and the
fake doctor who surrenders willingly to the madness swirling around
him. John Shepard retains total command as the seemingly sane Colonel
who galvanizes the action.
As a dramatic work, "The Colonel Bird" breaks no new dramatic
ground. But it's a stimulating and vibrant showcase for its professional
||ENGLAND - London
||The Colonel BirdGate Theatre,
A play set on the Serbian border where Nato planes fly overhead
on bombing missions cannot be faulted for being out of date, Jeremy
Kingston writes. It so happens that the targets lie in Bosnia, but
since Balkan history always alternates between despotism and slaughter,
it is no surprise to learn that the play is supposed to be set in
the year 2000. This year Kosovo, next year Macedonia: death's carousel
sometimes whirls faster but never stops going round.
Hristo Boytchev is from Bulgaria, a country currently at peace,
and though the war next door impinges on his characters, its battles
remain offstage. Most of the play is set in the ruins of a monastery,
cut off by snowdrifts and wolves at the far end of a gorge, where
half a dozen mental patients live a degraded life until a disorientated
UN plane deluges them with aid parcels. "The Balkans are all
the same to them," one of the inmates shrewdly points out.
"They were told to drop aid on the Balkans, so that's what
Combat uniforms and sky-blue berets are included in the aid, and
these transform the most traumatised patient (Damian Myerscough)
into a UN colonel, who in turn transforms the others into a disciplined
and purposeful group, though all of them continue to be mad. Eventually
the group applies to join Nato as an independent force, attaching
their application to the leg of a migrating bird and scanning the
winter skies for an answer.
With Nato seen as an all-providing god, what we have here is plainly
an allegory for Eastern Europe's longing to join the banquet. Boytchev
is not concerned to examine the nature of madness - the Gate's current
season is called The Idiots - except insofar as a wish to join the
West might be a disturbing symptom. So the disorganised mad behaviour
at the start is something of a trial to watch.
Once the madness is canalised into Lilliputian ambition, Rupert
Goold's direction creates an impressive coherence. The bird-catching
scenes are exciting, with the characters huddling together and leaning
back in unison when the flocks pass above them. Adam Cork's fast,
jangling music also gives a fine sense of adrenalin pounding through
the system, and though the characters are seldom more than two-dimensional,
the performances are vigorous, while the closing scene, in Strasbourg's
cathedral square, packs a hearty satiric punch.