International Theatre Research Magazine
Oxford University, summer 2002

ph.d Svetlana Pancheva

…………The tragic face of human experiment, its illusions, absurdity and alternatives are one of the unifying ideas and metaphors in the theatrical world of Kalin Iliev whose dramatic constructions made a remarkable breakthrough in our contemporary theatre.

            The peculiar combination of original metaphorical thinking and imagery with an unusual, not so much absurd but more situated in a different dimension of optic plot, make his plays one of the most interesting and unconventional pieces of drama in the contemporary theatrical landscape. “The Key”, “A story about the End”, “The ball of the Snakes” and “The Bed-wetter” are plays which found their realization during the last two theatrical seasons on prestigious theatrical stages throughout the country. The only exception is “The Key” which is written in the stylistics of convention drama. But even here, the ostensibly understandable and commonly developing story about the attempts of two lonely people – the Man and the Woman, whose parts are exchanged wittily, with original comic approach in the first and second part of the play, - to find mutuality in the big city, go beyond the boundaries of reality into an invented restaurant for dates in which there is a “a detector of love” – a fantastic machine for measuring the feelings. With the illusion of the characters of the Official and the Postman whose images definitely function as mediators, not only among the people, but between real and imaginary worlds, between concreteness and fantasy, the lonely people in this play become four. The symbolic charging of the characters of the Postman who is the permanent key character in the theatrical code of Kalin Iliev, with the role of a go-between, a mediator, the connection between the two realities of the macro space – the real and the desired, the clear and the enigmatic, and in “The Ball of the Snakes” with the function of the one who opens the gates to the other world – the world of real life (here wrapped in the metaphorical clothes of the Great Ball), is perhaps the most original and significant stylistic figure in the peculiar dramatic world of this author.

            For Kalin Iliev is a playwright who creates his own authentic world on the theatrical territory. He does not re-produce obvious things but rather, in the style of the post-modern vision, constructs another different, artificial world whose connections with the reality are outer wrapping, the names of several key characters and images which exist in all of his plays. Besides the Postman, these are: the Key as an image of the obstacle but also of the exit; the Doll who sometimes is the Grand Mamma created and born by her son (Ado in “The Ball of the Snakes” or Adam in “A Story about the End”), and sometimes is the Grand Dame (the Gate keeper’s beloved in “The Bed-Wetter”) symbolizing the missing, the unattained, and the Boy who is the character of the unrealized, helpless, lonely and unprepared for life individual with the ancient name Adam, Ado or simply the Man. The top of his originally peculiar theatrical and fantastic world, characterized by its bright visuality is “A story about the End” – an anti-utopia which tells through the dream of the Boy about the attempts of a group of friends from childhood, already people with authority and past, to meet together the end of the world (the clash of the Earth with the Comet) on the beach of the ocean. The strange, strained situation reveals their essence fully, and through various extreme acts, the friends turn out to be far away from each other as never before. Apparently, the communication between physical bodies and human soul is not easy at all or may be the dolls, the visions and the inner voices are more real and possible as objects for communication and relationship. In “A Story about the End” the main subject about “the end of the world” is revealed in the dream, and perhaps in the reality of the future. And if this is a rather fantastic projection of a future and possible world, then the most stunning and putting numerous traps in the analysis of the characters and the theses of Kalin Iliev’s plays “the Ball of the Snakes”, is definitely a grotesque black farce in the style of “Grand Guignol”. Just before the city ball three women – a mother, a sister and a wife are trying to kill their son, brother and husband. They do not succeed. However, he walks on the threshold of the house and dies. He died absurdly exactly the way he lived. And the grief (Is it real or false?) does not bring satisfaction but bitterness and arguments among the three women. Then there is corps. Horrible, if it was not a farce. All the four characters are even more horrible in their cruelty and cynicism than the two snakes hidden under two stones which also are preparing themselves for the ball. The suggested love under the two stones is the counterpoint in the play. In this sense “The Ball of the Snakes” is perhaps the extreme alternative of the unifying theme in the theatrical world of Kalin Iliev about the illusions, the possibilities and the alternatives of human experiment, an alternative extending itself out of man but not reaching beyond the world itself.

            In the mono-play “The Bed-Wetter” the projection of keeping the world and the invaluable special stock – the self-confidence of the world elite – by a Gate Keeper with the assistance of God, is a dramatic as well as theatrical founding. The lonely warrior-keeper, dressed in a complete battle outfit with a gas mask in the dark warehouse, awaiting the stealer of the world’s self-confidence which later turns to be the devil, is an image of strong expression and theatrical metaphor. The specifics of the mono-play, and “The Bed-Wetter” is one of the three existing such plays in the Bulgarian drama, requires and creates prerequisites for remarkable theatrical realization and successful part, as it is the case with the play of Atanas Atanasov in Nikolay Lambrev’s performance on the stage of the Theatre of the Bulgarian Army. The theme for the man without self-confidence, and the character as such, suffering by the complex of bed-wetting at night and by the lack of normal human contact and love, is elaborated as an original theatrical parabola, in which the lack and the absence of something at one place or its excess somewhere else, distracts the balance of the world construction. In the end everything is restored – the Gate-Keeper, a man with excess of self confidence, generated as compensation of his complex, turns into a normal man with normal self-confidence. But does the poetic and passionate dance with his favorite doll confirm that indeed?

ph.d Svetlana Pancheva