Saturday, March 24, 2012

In Which I Get Married and Kiss a Live Chicken

Tonight, I spent the evening (along with my mother and a subset of the Oxford Georgian Society) at my favourite French Brasserie Tartine, attending a participatory piece of "cafe-theatre" entitled "An Evening 'Cafe-Theatre Du Bagarkistan'" performed by a "Franco-Georgian" theatrical collective "du theatre aerien". The piece involved the travails of three gentleman from the fictitious land Bagarkistan, a post-Soviet nation with a rather lax sense of Western taste, who arrive at a French Brasserie entitled Tartine, begin to harass the "patron" in Bagarkistani (one speaks simplistic French, the other equally simplistic Georgian, the third only Bagarkistani - a clever device that allowed the actors to a mixed Franco-Georgian audience). While the first act was largely an exercise in audience-participatory theatre - the fellows ordered food, complained at the waitress, and established their general rubeishness (while the audience, to my disappointment, largely steadfastly ignored them - being a Good Audience Member is an underrated skill), things swiftly got underway when they announced that one of their compatriates - the Barkgarkistani who spoke only his native tongue - was seeking a bride! After refusing angrily the first potential bride presented to him, storming out of the cafe (the large glass-paned windows of the restaurant were used to great effect here as we saw his fellow countrymen attempting to induce to return in the background), five volunteers - keen young women - were sought!

I, of course, could not resist: it is the duty of any theatrical professional (or would-be professional) to join the fray and be a Good Audience Member. Thus was I, along with four other women (three Georgians, I believe, and one French), presented for the consideration of this charming fellow. The fellow turned his back to us to avoid judging on looks, asking us questions which we could answer in French or Georgian (I chose French) and which the other would translate to us: "how do you define freedom?" - my response "to sleep as late as I like", "how many kilos can you lift?" (I almost-lifted my potential groom), "what are your measurements" ("enough but not too much"), and "do you like animals?" For this last question I was compelled to kiss a live chicken upon its feathered neck, which I did with gusto.

Apparently my answers pleased this bizarre cohort, for I was chosen as one of two finalists for our Bagarkistanian gentleman's hand. I was asked to recite a poem (I chose Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance" - which to my surprise confused the Georgians in the audience; I would have thought that pop music bridged all barriers in this globalized age!), to kiss my would-be suitor (on the cheek, passionately), to dance, to lift heavy pails of water (a task I managed bravely, to my mother's surprise), and so forth. At last, following an excruciating intermission, I was chosen as the bride of the evening! Showered in a dowry (chocolates, fig jams from the associated Epicerie, Uzbek money, an old record, and a bottle of champagne), I danced with my beloved fiance before breaking a plate with my feet and allowing him to carry me off! A screening of a film entitled "Life in Bagarkistan" terminated the proceedings, as I learned the fate that would await me in my new native land: a life of drudgery, taking care of a lazy, shiftless husband, and allowing him access to my feminine charms. But before my mother could leap in to save me, the play was ended, and I was released from my marriage (dissolved! annulled!) to bring home my prizes in peace.

The piece, though certainly making use of familiar tropes (Borat is the most obvious comparison), was winning and funny: the actors played on the "tramp" archetype with great success, at once parodying and casting light on life in the Caucasus. I was most impressed with how they handled the challenge of playing to a multilingual audience (and one, I'm guessing, less accustomed to site-specific or interactive theatre than your average thespy Londoner) - their energy was charming and palpable, and by the end, the entirety of the audience joined the actors in a ceremonial Bagarkistani dance. (The actors, for their part, were enormously gracious and kind, and I look forward to their subsequent pieces. I have also discovered the immense joy of a 20-lari cheeseplate).

Only in Tbilisi, folks. Only in Tbilisi. Photos to follow.


Martin FM Smith - Bolnisi (Georgia) said...

Very exciting. Top notch. You've toned it down a little and it is brighter, less of you and more of the subject, even though it is all about you. It would not go amiss in a national newspaper. A 'trope' intruded, but peacefully this time, and the police did not have to be called.

Saint Facetious said...

Is this show still playing? It sounds awesome.