2023/2024 — Season 68
Boris Nikitin

The Last Fiction Piece

Directed by: Boris Nikitin
Première: 23. 5. 2023
  • The Academic Choir Tone Tomšič Academic Choir, University of Ljubljana
  • Polona Janežič
  • Translation: Jan Krmelj
  • Dramaturgy: Goran Injac
  • Space design and music selection: Boris Nikitin
  • Costume selection: Goran Injac, Boris Nikitin
  • Language consultant: Mateja Dermelj
  • Music arrangements: Akademski pevski zbor Tone Tomšič Univerze v Ljubljani; dirigentka Rahela Durič Barić
  • Lighting design: Kristina Kokalj, Boris Nikitin
  • Sound design: Marijan Sajovic, Silvo Zupančič
  • Stage manager: Urša Červ, Gašper Tesner

It is a famous scene in the New Testament: After his torture and execution, Jesus appears to his disciples and has his flesh wound poked by the doubting Thomas' finger. A moment that cuts history in two like an axe blow. This is the final proof of the bodily resurrection and consequently a proof that Jesus is indeed the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God. There is a world before and a world after.

But the scene has a catch: it does not exist. John, who is the only one of the four evangelists to tell of Thomas the Doubter, reports of an encounter, but there is no touching in his case either. Even with John, a residue remains: the possibility that Jesus' appearance was merely a collective delusion. Therefore, the entire Christian faith is based on a blank space.

What is faith, what is conviction, what is real? Director and writer Boris Nikitin is known for his passionate, often queer exploration of constructions of reality and identity. Many of his works straddle the ambiguous line between document and its forgery, between physical experience and mere dreamlike imagination. With The Last Fiction Piece he now continues a series of pieces in which he appropriates the format of the sermon. Part staged readymades, part illusion theatre, he enters the zone of revolt with actor Primož Bezjak and a choir, in which certainty is produced and the world is invented.

In the media

Bezjak begins his performance with a salute and address to the audience: his introductory words already break down the invisible fourth wall. There is no doubt that we are in theatre, in the Mladinsko Theatre, as he greets us. He also introduces himself. His very opening thus introduces doubt: from which position is he speaking? Is he speaking as Primož Bezjak or as the actor speaking the prepared text, or as a preacher (his posture and gestures are partly mimicking those of a Catholic priest), or as a modern motivational speaker who (at times emotionally and with angry zeal) addresses his audience? It’s hard to decide, all the positions of speaking seem at least a little bit real. But in all of them, something fictional is also present. Do they exclude each other? Probably not. They are all real, true, but it seems that neither dominates nor wants to dominate. In the course of the production, every one of them is played through and elaborated in a particular way, but none fully prevails. This is an excellent moment of the performance – this very shifting of the position of speaking, which of course enters into a dialogue with its theme in an interesting way. […] A series of questions arise, and ideas and thoughts, which certainly was the key intention of the production’s authors: to trigger thinking about points that seem almost taken for granted and given, but it reaches far beyond the confessional (Catholic) religion and to the deepest impulses of our everyday beliefs, faiths and values.

(Maja Murnik, Sodobnost, junij 2023)

The text is carefully written and woven into a whole and is, for an unfocused spectator, incomprehensible in some parts, but that also makes it indescribably interesting. […] The commendable actor has perfect diction and when he spoke, he could be heard and understood everywhere, he was very relaxed and supported his speech with gestures. Along with the harmony between the movement and the speech, there is also harmony with the music, created by the choir in the back. Live music certainly affords a special air to the story itself, as it reminds us of the ancient Greek theatre.

In certain parts, Bezjak’s speaking becomes convincing, sacrally manifestative, in some parts gesticulated, perhaps even political, and in other parts completely political, because it offers the audience the possibility of imagining and pondering the scenes, emotions and situations he describes. The minimalistic transitioning between the different modes of speaking is precisely gauged and we can, in certain moments, believe Bezjak completely, while in other moments he evokes doubt and laughter in us. The text is a philosophical essay, replete with meaning and it doesn’t allow for wandering through metaphorical ballast. The fundamental philosophical questions about the individual’s ability to act in the world, of creating sense and meaning and his power(lessness) in modern society are substantiated with examples from the actor’s or the director’s life. Bezjak’s monologue is thematically interrupted by the songs of the choir that thus construct an increasingly intense dramaturgy, while at the same time establishing the relationship between the individual and the multitude (the choir is wearing black t-shirts with different promotional, motivational, activist adages or brand logos) a part of which Bezjak becomes at the end of the performance.

How does an actor know he’s not on a mission from God?
A messenger with a mission? […]
The sermon was by an actor?
The sermon was by Primož Bezjak?
If the actor is at the same time ‘Primož personally’ how do the members of the Academic Choir Tone Tomšič communicate with his personality on stage (and vice-versa), and how do spectators and the audience communicate with them all?
Did we really listen to a sermon? [..]
What is actually a church that has its own state?
Personal is political?
Impersonal is not political? […]
Why the distinction between the conservatives and the leftists (or the presumption of any type of schisms) if we defend love?
Theatre is biodegradable … unlike the critical review, which burns easily … but the stage cannot catch fire, yes, because of the smoking ban … or the ban on living?
Trust can only be unconditional
I love <3

The main question of the production is how to come to the decision that we believe in something – whether it be an idea, love, or even church or theatre.

On the basis of the evangelical excerpt on Doubting Thomas who wanted to debate the existence of Christianity, Boris Nikitin’s The Last Fiction Piece set off on an endless journey of answering the questions that represent the philosophical base of the existence of humans as humans. Namely: despite the widely-held conviction, nowhere does the Bible say anything about Thomas’s finger in Christ’s wound. Did Thomas perhaps reject a rational proof and preferred to accept a metaphysical belief? On the stage of the Mladinsko Theatre, Nikitin, through Primož Bezjak in the role of a preacher, asks us whether we believe because we want to or because we have to. In the case of The Last Fiction Piece, these themes appear as an intelligent, attractive and meaningful idea […].

(Matic Ferlan, Radio Slovenija 1, May 24, 2023)

Boris Nikitin’s pared down production tries to use the story of Doubting Thomas and the fact that the moment in which Thomas was supposed to stick his finger into Jesus’s wound does not exist in the Bible to question the levels and the foundation of faith – no matter what faith. Bezjak appears onstage as a preacher, and because of his distinctly everyday costume (selected by Nikitin and Injac) and the fact that the action takes place on a stage, he, as a character, alludes also (or predominantly) to the motivational speakers, particularly those who, from massive stages convince audiences to take their lives in their own hands. In his interpretation, Bezjak is chillingly sovereign and convincing, but where he is absolutely brilliant is when he is trespassing between the speaker, preacher and some sort of a cult leader that’s trying to get the audience on his side. […] Through his own testimony, the actor demystifies the often ambiguous borders between the two and subtly questions our perception of what we believe is real and imaginary.

(Benjamin Zajc, Delo, June 2, 2023)

This is an evasive experiment that turns settled perspectives around and navigates on a non-linear course between truth and fiction, the narrative and the confessional, performative and illusionist theatre, the true, the solemn and the humorous. In all this chaos, it offers us – if we can at least for a moment pin it down and activate our imagination – an ideologically unburdened starting point to reconsider the most intimate questions of human essence.

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