Pillar of Salt
by Aleksandar Radunović

Directed by Javor Gardev
Stage Design by Nikola Toromanov
Costume Design by Lina Leković
Music by Nina Perović
Lighting Design – Gardev / Toromanov
Assistant Director – Damjan Pejanović
Dramaturge – Rajko Radulović
Stage Movement – Tamara Vujošević Mandić

Ana Vujošević
Dejan Ivanić
Jelica Vukčević*
Jelena Laban*
Vule Marković*

*Members of The Ensemble of The Royal Theatre “Zetski Dom”
Premiere – 12.02.2024, Cetinje, Montenegro

Alternative Utopia


Incomprehensible Distribution of Justice

by Javor Gardev

More than a year ago, before this play was even written, the former artistic director of The Royal Theatre Zetski Dom emailed me a synopsis with the simple title “Utopia”. It proposed a story about people who embrace death as a blissful solution. In a different everyday life situations, they willingly opt to end their own lives or end other people’s lives as a gift. As I read the synopsis, a perplexed feeling washed over me, and a shudder ran down my spine. A utopia, even if imaginary, was supposed to provide a rather hopeful resolution of the problems of society by a fictional radical change in its organization and structures.

This utopia had nothing to do with such effort at all, though. Instead of proposing a new type of society, it was dealing with the terminal solution as a lucky individual strategy to ultimately make sense of life. Its characters were supposed to be ordinary individuals in today’s society fighting their private, familial, social, intergenerational and cultural struggles. My curiosity was aroused, and I started contemplating the possibility of constructing such an atypical utopia on stage. Only one day later, the allure of the paradoxical challenge outweighed all my initial doubts, and for the first time in my life, I agreed to embark on staging a play that had not been written yet. This happened three years after I was supposed to start rehearsals of another play in Zetski Dom, but then Covid-19 took over and all plans fell through.

Several months later, a new email arrived in my inbox while I was getting on a plane about to fly from Riga. I received, this time by its author, the freshly written contemporary parable, “Pillar of Salt.” I immediately read it on the plane and found it to be a sophisticated work of dramaturgy comprising four distinct short plays, intricately linked by recurring character types under different names. Its allusions to epic calamity and disaster were well-thought. Its characters carried weighty themes and ideas, making the play both challenging and even perilous. It possessed the numbing and disconcerting qualities of a tragedy, where the cause of misfortune remains elusive, while also exhibiting the cleverness of a dark comedy, constantly observing that very misfortune from an absurd perspective.

As the 140th year of The Royal Theatre Zetski Dom’s jubilee unfolded, I found myself caught up in this daring and mesmerizing adventure, in which through the expertise of our talented cast, we explore the intricate workings of the human psyche. We delve into the deep and treacherous corners of human thoughts, desires, instincts, and impulses. We know we are walking in a dangerous realm that may provoke Old Testament wrath, but unlike Lot’s wife, while confronting our inner demons head-on, we fight to survive the harrowing encounter and get back into the sunlight purified, mature and wiser.

It is difficult. We proceed tame, for the forests of human mutability are tangled wildwood, and the distribution of world justice seems incomprehensible to us. The retribution for transgressions seems once arbitrary, at other times legitimate. We do not fully understand why one man’s deeds receive another’s punishment, why one is born with advantages and another with disadvantages.

One thing is certain, however – that our curiosity to know is usually punished. It is punished either by the gradual and irrevocable tragic effect that he who hoards knowledge hoards sorrow and despair, or by the sudden and unappealable verdict of our petrification into pillars of salt.

Photos by Duško Miljanić: