- DIRECTOR: Becka McFadden
- TRANSLATED by: Eva Daníčkova
- CAST: Lara Parmiani, Mark Ota, Daiva Domynika. Special guest Arnost Goldflam.
Prague, 2011. Champion poker player Jana travels the world in style. Clever, witty and filthy rich, she has it all. But behind her success lie dark secrets. Her past infatuation with Václav Havel. Her father’s letters from Africa. Her troubled relati
onship with her daughter Pavlína.
On the eve Havel’s funeral, when Jana returns from Tokyo to find Pavlína in the company of Viktor, a young man with political ambitions of his own, an embarrassing family dinner turns into a dangerous game escalating first in sex, then in violence and, eventually, in farce. Is Pavlína President Havel’s daughter? What is Viktor really after? Is there still room for icons in our cynical world?
Numerous flashbacks interrupt the main action. Jana’s father, Franta, appears on a massive video above her head, a ghost weighing on her conscience. We hear songs from 1989, images of the revolution, of Havel’s triumph, of the Nigerian oil rigs where Franta is working, getting progressively sicker because of the fumes. Jana hates the memories and yet, like a modern Lady M, she can’t get rid of them, and obsessively keeps re-reading his letters whilst pretending to mock them, in a grotesque performance that makes her daughter even more uncomfortable.
WHY POKER FACE:
Generational conflict over radical political and economic change in a European country… Sound familiar? At a time when it’s all too easy to disengage from the world around us, Poker Face invites us to consider the personal impact of major historical events, how the stuff of headlines trickles down to shape our views, broaden or limit our opportunities and inflect the ways in which we relate to one another. Together these considerations point to bigger questions concerning the relationship between individual and state, the governing and the governed. Kolečko personalises this relationship utterly. In Poker Face, Václav Havel isn’t just a past president – a generational icon – but also a past lover, and, therefore, an icon rendered human, imperfect, ambiguous, disappointing, even, despite his undeniable achievements.
Poker face isn’t a gritty, political drama. In Peter Kolečko’s world, the absurd is always lurking round the corner, heroes show their feet of clay and tragedy keeps turning into farce. Becka McFadden’s direction embraces the text’s ambiguity and pendant for the surreal, and creates a world in which nothing is what it seems. Characters bluff and double bluff, objects and situations can’t be trusted. Paper garlands become sushi that actors greedily feast on. Guns become bananas. The play’s translator dangles a gigantic envelope in front of Jana’s face and throws red bubbles onto the stage when Christmas dinner is announced. And in a universe where meaningful relationships are impossible, sex is recreated with a physical theatre routine in which Jana and Viktor jump rhythmically from the two corners of the room.
Audio and video contributions help immersing the audience in the original world of the play – Prague, the Velvet Revolution – but also deliberately create a sense of “estrangement”, as if direct communication was also an illusion.
Much like the real Havel, Poker Face delights in language. At the intersection of the political and the personal, of reality and aspiration, it plays with dialects. For Jana, the world is understood in terms of poker, while for Viktor, it exists to be essentialised into Twitter-ready sounbites. Meanwhile, between those two poles, in an atmosphere echoing with the utterances of those who have left, Pavlína searches for her voice. Our translation strives to recreate in English all the subtleties of the original, but also allows the original Czech to resurface form time to time, in the name of places and events, in the newsreels playing in the background, in the short flashbacks featuring Franta, embodiment of the old Czechoslovakian identity.
A play about speaking across gaps, where communication is never a foregone conclusion. A place where the personal and political are so deeply enmeshed that to separate them seems impossible. A play set in Prague, in 2011. A play for Britain and Europe post 2016? We certainly think so.
Petr Kolečko is one of the most successful Czech screenwriters and playwrights of his generation. By the age of 22 he had his first play, Britney Goes to Heaven, produced at the Petr Bezruč Theatre in Ostrava, translated into English and Polish, and presented as a staged reading at the Immigrants’ Theatre Project in New York. In 2008, he took part in the Royal Court’s international playwrights’ residence. He had a particularly successful seven-year stint as the artistic director of Prague’s A Studio Rubín, devoted entirely to contemporary Czech theatre. His plays have been staged by major theatres in the Czech Republic, and translated into English, French, Spanish, German, Romanian, Polish and Slovak. For TV, he wrote the critically-acclaimed sitcom The Fourth Star (Čtvrtá hvězda). Two of his plays, Icing (Zakázané uvolnění) and Fifty (Padesátka) have been adapted as feature films.
Poker Face was written in 2012 as part of Generation Icons, a European project exploring cultural identity and generational change. The main coordinator was Divadlo LETÍ, in Prague, and the co-organizers were GUnaGU Theatre, Bratislava, Slovakia Wiener Worstaetten, Vienna, Austria, the Arts and Theatre Institute, Prague, Czech Republic and the HaDivadlo Theatre Brno, Czech Republic. The project was based on the principle of blending three countries, three generations of authors, three original plays, three residences of directors for a direct confrontation between individual nationalities, generations and cultural contexts. The texts generated during the process, although different in form (ranging from the more traditional dramatic form to postdramatic theatre), all reflected the current social-political and economic environment. Poker Face and the Slovak Kill Hill ™, by Villam Klimáček were about money, games (virtual reality for Klimáček and poker for Kolečko) and the disillusionment which ensued the arrival of the capitalism in Eastern Europe. iPlay by Bernard Studler was a collage where poetry, humour, and politics blended. LegalAliens became involved in Generation Icons in 2013 when it was asked by Divadlo LETÍ to be their UK partner, and we presented staged readings of the three plays at RADA Studios.
Poker Face premiered at the KINGS HEAD THEATRE, London, in October 2016. 2017 dates including Trieste TACT Festival, Voila! Europe and Milan’s PACTA Salone
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