Saturday, October 23, 2010

Václav Havel: Leaving: pretty good

I just watched the Czech version of "Leaving" by Czech playwright Václav Havel who happened to be employed as the president of Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic.

Four minutes from an English version

It's a play about a chancellor, Mr Wilhelm Rieger, who is just leaving his office. He is soon to be replaced by Mr Vlastimil Klein.

I was afraid that the play would be full of moralizing - and that one of the politicians would actually be Havel himself while the new one would be Klaus - as the similarity with the name "V. Klein" suggests - and he would be compared with the morally superior Havel character.

However, these worries turned out to be unjustified. The old politician, Mr Rieger, is almost nothing like Havel himself (at least I hope and think). He's a politician who didn't do anything besides politics in his life - so he's still full of political slogans. And as he's losing his villa, respect of the family and girlfriend, and collaborators, he clearly suffers.

Mr Klein himself, the new chancellor, plays a largely passive role in the play although his decisions reveal some kind of common corruption in politics. His friends are immediately cleaned of any wrongdoing, for example, while people on the other side are suddenly found to have crossed various boundaries. Who was at the top, quickly drops to the bottom, and vice versa.

At the very end, Havel decides not to terminate the play too early - which would resemble a play by Chekhov. Instead, the former fan of Mr Rieger, an attractive young female political scientist, becomes a fan of Mr Klein who informs us what Molotov told him on a cocktail party. :-)

The play was often interrupted by Havel's voice. Havel would share his experiences and difficulties from the moments when he was writing the play - e.g. problems with his memory about who has already left the scene. And the comments were pretty funny in most cases. For example, after 10 minutes or so, Havel announced that he had realized that nothing had happened so far but he wanted the viewers to be more grateful when the events pick up a little speed later. :-)

Of course, the question whether Havel would really be a good enough playwright who could feed himself if he were not a dissident and a top symbol of the fight against communism - and a president - is being often asked. And I tend to think that he would deserve to be a full-fledged respected playwright. I don't claim that he's among the best or brightest playwrights in the history but I do often find his works witty and pleasantly deep.

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