Ich kann nicht anders

photo: Carlos Cardona

Ich kann nicht anders is a strange production that La MaMa presented in January. It comes from Beton Ltd., a company from Slovenia, and another producer, Bunker, Ljubljana. The set (by sonda4 and Toni Soprano) is richly textured - it looks like a sort of messy warehouse, with lots of plastic hanging about and cigarette packs strewn on the floor. On it we find two actors and an actress, all barefoot. 

An actor opens, addressing us: “In the following 75 minutes, I will try to convince you that I am not me but someone else.” He continues in a complex speech saying “Some of you will find it boring - which will mean that you have chosen the wrong event for this evening.” He tells us the show is “75 minutes of just words”

Indeed, there’s no plot to the play. There’s intensely emotional or intellectual conversation with no clear train of thought and faulty logic. Nothing makes dramatic sense. But it’s not just words - there is dramatic action. There’s 75 minutes of the intense moment-to-moment life of the actors as they argue, challenge and castigate one another, feign suicide, make a sexual proposition, et al.

The cultural references are scattered to the point of being random: the Yugoslav Wars, the 2016 Munich shooting, bitcoin… And there’s a sound overlay. Often it means nothing, but it includes explosions that startle our nameless characters, and, most importantly, sounds of the street. These last put the trio in the context of the outside world they’re avoiding.

Much of their hyper-educated conversation concerns philosophy (“A human being has only four existential problems.”) and art (“Art cannot discuss some life experiences - such as steak.”) And of course sex. There’s quite some vulgarity, and for a time the characters prance around the stage naked for no reason.

Superficials aside, the script resembles Waiting for Godot. Like Didi and Gogo, these characters go on “blathering about nothing in particular”. Of course, they’re infinitely smarter than Beckett’s characters, but their dialogue has the same quality of being merely an activity, something to pass the time. It’s never translated into a decision. Indeed, toward the end of the piece one character says “Will we do something or not? Will we take responsibility or not?” But there’s no clear reference in the line. Do something about what? And in a moment of insight, he says “We shut ourselves in but we are doing the same shit as everyone else.”

Beton Ltd. has conceived a piece that deliberately bores and confuses. They throw ideas and words at us like a barrage of arrows and javelins in siege warfare. No one could possibly assimilate all this. They’ve executed the conceit meticulously. And no one could fault the acting of the cast (Primož Bezjak, Branko Jordan and Katarina Stegnar). If nothing else, it’s a grand feat of memorization. 

But Waiting for Godot succeeds because it never bores. Ich kann nicht anders fails because it leaves the audience out. The company has pursued their creative vision single-mindedly, like good avant-gardists, but they haven’t considered us. If this all means something, they haven’t let us in on the secret. Boredom and confusion fail utterly as dramatic techniques. It’s all self-indulgent. We don’t care about these smart, nervous characters, and with nothing to absorb us, we stop listening.

The title, by the way - I can do nothing else - is a reference to Martin Luther’s defense that he must follow his conscience. It’s intriguing, and the only key to interpretation that the play gives us.

Steve Capra

January 2020

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