Theater Review: Jara Cimrman's Pub in the Glade

A third play by the beloved but nonexistent Czech author is now in English

A third play by the great Czech author Jara Cimrman now can be seen in a new English version at Žižkovské divadlo Járy Cimrmana, the home theater of the original plays.

For those not yet in on the joke, Jara Cimrman does not exist. He was invented by Zdeněk Svěrák and some other writers in 1966 for a radio show and has gone on to be one of the best-loved Czech characters. Most of his alleged writings were lost, but occasionally something would be rediscovered. His plays are famous for not being very good. Experts encouraged Cimrman not to write plays, and not to write at all. But he persisted. That is the central conceit of the humor. Svěrák and the late Ladislav Smoljak are the ones behind most of the plays.

Pub in the Glade (Hospoda Na mýtince) was first performed in Czech in 1969, and is the second Cimrman play. It is a bit more simple and naive than the other two that have recently been staged in English by Cimrman English TheatreThe Stand In (Záskok) from 1994 and Conquest of the North Pole (Dobytí severního pólu) from 1985.

As with the other plays, there are two parts. The first is a lecture about various aspects of Cimrman's career. The cast members delve into Cimrman's theories of poetry, which stress repetition to an absurd degree, and his ventures into musical theater including a thankfully lost seven-hour operetta. Several themes that will pop up in the play are covered in the lecture.

The second act is the play itself. An innkeeper (played by Michael Pitthan) has inherited his grandfather's pub deep in the forest. The grandfather had several pubs, but they were all plagued with customers wanting things. Finally, he built a pub far away from the crowds so he could be alone.

He has one steady customer, a rather silent man named played by a mannequin. This, of course, won't sustain the whole play. A third character literally drops from the sky — Count Zeppelin (Adam Stewart), whose single-seater dirigible crashes nearby.

Later, Curt Matthew turns up as a character named Kulhánek to further complicate the plot.

The innkeeper invents a tale to keep the new guests from leaving, as he has now greatly increased his usual business.

There are some musical numbers, and the audience was warned in the lecture part that these are not good. They are staged with a rather cartoonish choreography, which suits the material. The songs are not as bad as the warning made them out to be.

Count Zeppelin is the standout role, as the character is a bit of a rogue. He gets caught up on a reference to “saffron and ginger,” saying it over and over as if it is the most erotic phrase he ever heard.

The innkeeper is more of a low-key role, but also with its fair share of laughs. The plot to make the guests stay keeps the innkeeper busy with some visual humor.

Curt Matthew gives the play a boost in its later part, playing another of his slightly dim-witted characters who is nonetheless engaging.

The play builds to a bizarrely unexpected resolution, wrapping up all the themes in a bit of a deus ex machina fashion that just adds to the overall absurdity.

Peter Hosking, who appeared in the first two English language productions, directed this time. He keeps in line with the other plays, having the actors perform very broadly when they aren't deadpan. The plays need a special touch to push the admittedly dry humor over. Hosking, for the most part, keeps the proper balance. While the play has an amateurish look, that is actually an illusion. The timing of certain bits has clearly been worked on to maximize the humor, and the gestures and other stage action have been carefully planned.

The play is a new translation by Emilia Machalová, Brian Stewart and Hanka Jelínková. The latter is the daughter of Zdeněk Svěrák.

For a long time, Svěrák felt the plays were untranslatable, but he has been pleased with the results in English so far.

For people who haven't seen a Cimrman play before, Pub in the Glade is a bit less sophisticated than the others, but still good fun. The other two plays are also still being reprised at the Žižkovské divadlo Járy Cimrmana as well as now going to other cities. All of them offer good insight into Czech culture and humor.

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