By: Feb. 27, 2018
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Žižkovske Divadlo Járy Cimrmana, Feb.23, 2018

(also April 20, May 18, and June 22)

There is such a thing as a national sense of humor. Americans have the urban punsters of the Marx Brothers; the British have Monty Python's stoic eccentrics. And so it goes with Jara Cimrman and the Czech Republic.

Jára Cimrman (pronounced, loosely, like 'Zimmerman') is a Czech hero. In press clippings, he is often described as a 'universal genius, inventor, sportsman, poet, writer, and philosopher'. He is also a figment of the imagination, specifically, a figment of the imagination of two actual writers, Zdenek Sverak and Ladislav Smoljak. In the mid-1960's, these men created Mr Cimrman, invented his biography (and continually revised it), and credited him with a series of plays. Cimrman's characters, like Cimrman himself, are generally well-meaning fools trapped in improbable and often irrational circumstances. These plays include 'Žaskok" ("The Stand-In'), "Dobytí severního pólu" ("The Conquest Of The North Pole") and now, "Hospoda Na mytince" ("The Pub In The Glade").

The discourteousness of these dramatic works resonated with the Czech theatre-going public when they were still under the Communist thumb, and now, in English translations by Sverak's daughter Hanka Sváková-Jelínková, Emília Machalová, and Brian Stewart, the Cimrman English Theatre in the Žižkov neighborhood of Prague plays them in repertory.

Like all the other Cimrman plays, "The Pub In The Glade" is divided into two acts. In this instance, the first act is a long -- and deliberately long-winded -- lecture delivered by the cast and concerning the author's oblique approach to Viennese operetta; the second act is a rough-hewn (and intentionally ridiculous) demonstration of the same.

The plot, such as it is, involved an Innkeeper (Michael Pitthan) who has inherited the titular pub from his grandfather. Grandfather long held the dream of running a pub, but - being a misogynist - needed to find a location where there would be no likelihood of any customers: hence, the 'glade' - a clearing in the middle of a forest. This semi-utopian space is unfortunately invaded by a lascivious count (Adam Stewart) who is determined to court the publican's beautiful but evidentially imaginary granddaughter. There is also an escaped convict (Curt Matthew) and a private investigator (Ben Bradshaw). You get the general idea.

The score - such as it is - employs snippets of the real stuff from Strauss, Lehar, and their Polish and Czech contemporaries. The awkward charm of these songs demonstrates in practice the marching rhymes and repetitive arias which were promised (or threatened) in the first act's lecture. The fact that these bits are purloined pieces of actual music from respected if temporarily unfashionable composers helps to underscore (no pun intended) the joke.

As if often the case in the other Cimrman plays, traditional effects are put into service as dramatic weapons. At one point, a stagehand crosses with a placard announcing the passing of time, and the raising and lowering of the curtain display several tableaux vivants. It's all done at an amiably shambling pace, with worn-out props and zany costumes, as if, at any moment, the entire cast is on the verge of shedding their thespian skins and heading out to the nearest functioning pub. As well they might be.

The cast, genially directed by Peter Hosking, performs this show and the other Cimrman 'classics' in repertory. If you have a few hours and a few crowns to spare, a certain distracted hilarity is guaranteed. Check the local Prague guides when you are in town to see if there is a production coinciding with your visit.


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