Interplay wrap-up pt 9: Vedrana Klepica’s J.A.T.O.

Helenna: Reykyavik is cold and nobody has a sense of humor. I got drunk there one night.
Björn: She always gets drunk one night.
Helenna: I got drunk there one night. It was in my first month of pregnancy. I wrote a graffiti in colour on a wall building – I hate Reykjavik!!! I even learnt to write it in Icelandic. I ended up in the police station. Of course.
Björn: I taught her Icelandic.
Helenna: Eg hatur Reykjavik!!! Eg hatur Reykjavik in a blood-red shade on the façade of a huge modern three-storey house. I ended up in the police station. Of course.

reading of J.A.T.O. in Cairns at Interplay 2009

Vedrana Klepica is a Croatian playwright based in Zagreb. As well as studying for a Master’s at the Academy for Dramatic Art in Zagreb, she directs a theatre festival (FANI) in the town of Kutina and writes scripts in a way that makes me want to shrug and more or less give in.

J.A.T.O. is baroque. As Declan Greene said, it makes its own rules and then breaks them. The story (and there is a story) is of a jazz ensemble (the J in J.A.T.O. stands for jazz!) arriving in Croatia at the same time as a visiting dignitary. Their manager is anxiously awaiting their arrival. One of the band members may have swapped his saxophone for some cocaine. There are shifts and dynamics and backstories and subplots, and all those things you associate with a good novel, but J.A.T.O. is not the stage equivalent of a good novel. J.A.T.O. is the stage equivalent of sitting up for 72 hours in a basement full of people watching the news on television and learning more about your companions than you ever desired.

Dizzy Gillespie in Zagreb in 1956. Looking good, Dizzy.

How does J.A.T.O. tell its story? In a flickering sandstorm of tiny, gritty images. Sentence-long images, sometimes not even that. Fragments of thought, vision, sensation, activity, and all of them rush on top of each other but you gradually build up the semblance of understanding from one tiny glimmer of reality after another. The streams of consciousness are like stunted James Joyce trains of free association, and the dialogue hums along like the best punch-in-the-stomach moments from Martin Crimp’s Fewer Emergencies.

The cast of characters range across the political spectrum of apathy to extremism, from exploiter to victim, and flickering in and out of their stories is Klepica’s voice, more or less provoking a reader or director into never getting comfortable with the script. This would be an incredible challenge to stage, but the kind of challenge that makes you wonder why you’d settle for anything easier.

J.A.T.O. is haunted by the ghosts of thousands of unspecified violent acts.

All this is tied together by Klepica’s confident pacing, which connects this sprawling monstrosity into an increasingly frantic juggernaut. There is no hurry and there is no escape.

It’s hard for me to draw out one single theme in J.A.T.O., but Vedrana’s justification of her filmscript The Coma (featured in the European Short Pitch 2009) resonates with me*: ‘The only things that can really ever change us are disasters.’

Julia: with disheveled hair because I ran in a hurry not to be late for the taxi and the dick and the concert, and with a hardly noticeable but still run ladder in my new grey silk hundred kn stockings from the shop such and such, hope nobody sees it, just sit down and cross your legs, nobody will see it, who here wants to know about a run ladder in your damned stocking, nobody’s interested because everybody’s talking to someone, laughing like crazy, what the fuck is so funny, goddammit, what, what, or, worse, they touch each other’s palms and elbows gently and smell each other’s hair, smell, smell hair, like aroused cats in February, everybody, almost everybody smells each other, except for you, you’re in company of your run ladder and smile sincerely and feel relatively relived when you realize that your run ladder won’t be breaking news tomorrow, because that is reserved for those two dead people at the intersection of streets this and that, he and she, she and he, come on, stand up, walk proudly, there’s time until the concert begins, fix your hair, fix your makeup, wish for a glass of alcohol, wine would be best, white would be best, to contrast with your best slutty black dress, because if you do something well in life, it’s colors and combining them, and if there’s something you don’t do well, that’s everything else. That’s everything else.

If there’s one thing Aquarius Nightclub in Zagreb does well, it’s colors and combining them.

*Is Vedrana going to be wildly unimpressed with me for quoting her out of context like this? Probably.