Madagascar

The story of Madagascar is set in the years between 1912 and 1945. A whirlwind of ideas is spinning in Lithuania, which has declared its independence. The new intellectuals are considering what to do with this new state, which direction it should go in, and what it should be. Even the most improbable ideas are being discussed as serious projects. Finally, all the great Utopians end up alone and unappreciated.

The prototype for Kazimieras Pokštas, the main character, is the famous Lithuanian geopolitician Kazys Pakštas (1893-1960). It would be difficult to find another personality in 20th-century Lithuania with so many cultural, geopolitical and social ideas, so many daring projects and visions. A geographer, traveller and public figure, Pakštas was called ‘minister without portfolio for propaganda’, ‘a marcher for a free Europe’, ‘Ulysses’, ‘a Lithuania nomad’,  ‘a patriotic tornado’, ‘the herald of the nation, ‘the national apostle’, and ‘the Lithuanian Cicero’, and was compared to Abraham Lincoln and Alexander von Humboldt. He was a Christopher Columbus, searching for new lands throughout his life. Pakštas was unique in taking direct action to protect Lithuania and Central Europe from various threats, instead of using only rhetorical means. These actions included his attempts to create a Central European Christian Democratic Union, and a ‘reserve’ homeland, the so-called Dausuva, as well the idea of a Baltoscandian confederation. He sought to move Lithuania to Africa, because he anticipated the terrible fate of his land.

Another prototype for the character named Sale is the eminent Lithuanian poetess Salomeja Neris (1904-1945). Even though today she is considered to be the most outstanding poetess of the early period of independence, she is criticised because of her collaboration with the communists.

In 1940, she was part of the delegation which went to Moscow to ask for occupied Lithuania to be accepted into the Soviet Union. She died of cancer in 1945 in a Moscow hospital.  

In fact, Pakštas and Neris never met. This was Tuminas’ idea. Other prototypes were chosen on the basis of a single criterion: all were great Utopians, idealists, who had huge visionary aims and crazy ideas. And all of them suffered a collapse. Marius Ivaškevičius was curious to investigate what might have happened if these people had met. Another fantastic meeting takes place in Paris, at the Oskaras’ apartment. The prototype of Oskaras is Oscar Milosz (1877-1939), a famous Lithuanian, Polish and French writer, mystic and Lithuanian diplomat in France.

The language of the characters in Madagascar is not contemporary Lithuanian, but something similar to the language which people spoke in the interwar period. Using this special vocabulary, Ivaškevičius creates his own vision of the Lithuanian language.

 

About the production

 

‘When you move to any historical context, you always return to your childhood. We cannot perceive our continuity by limiting ourselves only to our date of birth. We are all from some time ago.’

Rimas Tuminas, director of Madagascar

 

Madagascar is a symbolic place to move Lithuania to. However, some politicians of the interwar period did not think of it as symbolic. At that time, the idea of the geographer Kazys Pakštas to colonise Africa was urgent and very influential. Lithuania saw itself as an isolated national island between big nations, so why not to move it to a real island? The director and the playwright both envision interwar Lithuania as a phenomenon in search of adaptation. This search, which lasted 20 years, is, of course, funny, but it is also beautiful. In a sense, we are again now starting to look for what was not found then.

In creating an atmosphere conducive to creative work, the director sought to evoke forgotten sensations, associations and images lying in his memory. His favourite story about smoking sausages on a late Sunday evening in one of the autumns of his childhood is no exception, and could be considered one of the elements of the prehistory of Madagascar: more than a simple allegory, it appears as the making of an image of a childish sensation accompanying the director throughout his life. It could be that genial scenic metaphors are born at the moment when sensations, unwilling to be silent, finally find a certain material image to settle in.

After several public revisions of Madagascar, an old boat was introduced. In the meantime, it appears on the stage only twice: at the beginning of the play, in the scene of the birth and childhood of Pakštas; and in the final scene of the first part of the play, when, stupefied by the ‘televisions’ of Oskaras, and with much effort, Pakštas takes it up using a rope as if it were a flag. Painting in some way an itinerary of the trip, the image of the boat gives the action a sense of perspective, and stands as a point of departure for a further trip by the personages of the play and by its creators.

The director created some kind of perspective, as a window to the world of universal sensations, in almost every episode of the play. By employing ingenious insights and observations of everyday life, Tuminas also tried to extract what he calls ‘the voice of an epoch’. During the rehearsals of Madagascar, he developed an original philosophy of sound. In his words, everything in our lives, and in the world we live in, passes, disappears and is forgotten; only sound remains eternal.

The ‘material’ sounds discovered by the composer Faustas Latėnas are also of great importance in the play: these are the sounds of the sea, which penetrate into a church, interrupting a sermon preached by Pakštas, the shrill singing of countrywomen, the silent tolling of bells, or a lyrical folk song which dissipates the comedy of situations, and finally, those moments of silence in which the Past meets the Present.

 

Reviews:

 

In the play, Lithuania, continuously turned towards the sea, contracts to a little group of ghost prudes, or to a pineapple as large as a fist, or finally to two burning paper boats, and their small flames evoke a great hope of patriotic mercy.

 

7 meno dienos

 

Madagascar laughs with admiration and love for the people of an epoch in which one was able to live and believe in Utopian, but very beautiful and ingenious, fantasies. In a way, as if it was joking, this play manages to depict the Lithuanians in such a light, that it is quite impossible to resist their charm.

 

Lietuvos rytas

 

The State Small Theatre of Vilnius is one of the most attractive experimental spaces. Rimas Tuminas’ idea, cherished for a long time, to tell the Utopia of a real (and for this, even more interesting) person, a minister without portfolio, theoretician and traveller, Kazys Pakštas, was transformed by Marius Ivaškevičius into a kaleidoscope of his own creative work […] The visions of both Ivaškevičius and Tuminas express a similar approach to the Utopia of Kazys Pakštas: Ivaškevičius and Tuminas are especially cautious, by treating it with irony as well as with exaggerated heroism or nostalgia.

 

Kultūros barai

 

The play presents an original and controversial approach to Lithuania as a phenomenon. Kazimieras Pokštas, the main character in Madagascar, is based on a real person, Kazys Pakštas, a geographer and traveller, who was famous for his many Utopian ideas. By telling stories from Pokštas’ life and the lives of people he met, Ivaškevičius attacks one by one the most popular stereotypes in the minds of the Lithuanians, such as the grandiose projects of a small nation, agoraphobia, the mythologisation of the past, and so on.

 

7 meno dienos

 

Based on biographies of famous people in interwar Lithuania, so in some sense it is a documentary play, Madagascar also appears as a kind of social investigation. It explores the phenomenon of what a ‘Lithuanian’ is, analyses the Lithuanian mentality, and describes the grandiose ambitions of the people and their love of creating Utopias […] Husked from a shell of a pathetic way of talking, the Lithuanians appear particularly attractive. In the play, they are rather like nitwits, but delightful in their childish naivety …

 

Šiaurės Atėnai

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