1 April, 2023
9 plays from the "New Ionesco" have been translated by Ognean Stamboliev
The cover of the Bulgarian edition of the book ”Horses below the window” by Matei Vișniec (source: Ognyan Stamboliev”

9 plays from the “New Ionesco” have been translated by Ognyan Stamboliev

Ognyan Stamboliev 

As for Shakespeare, so for Matei Vișniec (b. 1956) “all the world’s a stage”. More precisely, in this case “a circus”. 

This theme is found in some of his best-known texts, performed all over the world – The Clowns (Recruiting of a clown), ”Three Nights with Madox”, ”And what shall we do with the cello”, ”Well, Mother, but they tell in act two what happens in act one”. 

The circus, the masquerade, the carnival can be found in many of these plays, inspired by Italian commedia dell’arte, Caragiale’s drama, Ionesco and Alfred Jarry. It is also related to the surrealist prose of the Romanian avant-garde Urmuz, unknown in Bulgaria, which actually predates Ionesco and Beckett. Irony and satire, buffoonery and the grotesque intertwine in an astonishingly harmonious way. At times, the poetic element comes to the fore.  

Some critics define Vișniec’s theatre as “fragmentary”, others as “poetic” and “hypersensitive”, others as “post-psychological”. All of these are true, but the most accurate would be to say that it is blood related to the horrors of existence, and despite its influences (Kafka, Sartre, Buzzati, Ionesco, Jarry, Beckett, Pinter, Arabal, Mrozek), it is resolutely innovative and original.

In September 1987, Vișniec, aged 31, went to the West (or rather emigrated) as a traveller. He resolutely decided to leave his homeland, then under the dictator Ceaușescu, and, like many Romanian intellectuals, to seek political asylum in friendly France. He obtained it without waiting too long. There he immediately found that he felt at home, that he knew the city on the Seine well (from literature and cinema!). Later, in an interview with the Bulgarian magazine “Torch”, he said: 

“Suddenly it turned out that I was at home, that I had arrived in a kind of spiritual homeland, in a place that was very familiar and close to me, because I had dreamed it and imagined it…” 

Like his great compatriots Emil Cioran and Eugène Ionesco, he had mastered the language of Voltaire and Hugo to perfection and began to write in French. “French disciplined my pen,” he said, “I began to express myself more precisely and rigorously…”.

He is also the author of 7 novels. I would say that his prose resembles poetry and drama. There is no realism in it. In fact, Matei Vișniec is the author of only one “realist text” – his dissertation on “Resistance through culture in Eastern European countries”. 

Today, Matej Višniek’s name appears on theatre posters in over 30 countries in Europe, Asia and America. He is the author of poems, over 70 plays and 7 novels. He performs all over the world – from Argentina to Japan. He has even been staged in Turkey and Iran. For years, his plays have been on the posters of major theatre festivals in Avignon, Edinburgh, Moscow, Tokyo and Sibiu. He has won prestigious international awards. In Romania, after the fall of the communist regime, he was one of the most published, read, performed and loved authors by the public. Many of his books have been published in France and worldwide. In Bulgaria, his novels Panic in the City of Lights, Mr. K. at Large, The Planned Chaos and The Merchant of Beginnings (awarded European Novel of the Year 2016), a collection of poems, The City of One Inhabitant, and a selection of plays A Parisian Attic with a View of Death and The Traveller in the Rain have been translated.    

So far, only a few of his plays have been staged in our country.  World critics, not coincidentally, have rightly described him as “the new Ionesco”.

Photo: Matei Vișniec (source: YouTube)

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