Another review of SumSum zum Quadrat

(English translation of Russian original) The language of love is an odd thing. Two people chirp, coo, tweet and babble to each other like exotic birds. They point to each other out of nowhere. Sometimes, they start to hop around and mutter incomprehensible tales of sea-creatures, fairies, and nymphs… 

No, not like birds. It’s more like listening to some sort of magical creatures whose ways of communication you don’t understand.

After a while, you suddenly realize that you can actually sense subtle inflections in their babble: first, caution and apprehension, then curiosity, then they seem to be chirping in harmony, and that is when you, to your great surprise, begin to understand. You understand that they’re speaking! Speaking about love. Speaking the language of love. And you can’t believe it, could it be that you’ve forgotten this magical language? You used to speak it, it used to come to you so easily! And now?

Being young and in love is so wonderful… and so terrible… And the people in this play are no different. They’re afraid, shy, so at first, the results of their efforts are awkward: instead of magical creatures they make a papier-mâché firebird in a cage, a hardboiled egg in an incubator. Incidentally, one of the characters keeps trying to play a convoluted tune – using an egg slicer for a musical instrument!

Their older sisters seem able to be more productive, but their time has already passed.  There was a time when they, too, sang the enchanted birdsong of love, but no one answered their call. It’s a shame, really…

But then, everyone is singing. And it’s coming out well. And it doesn’t matter that some are belting out folk songs, some are singing choral chamber music, and others are breaking into a jazzy big band tune. It works.

The play is in two languages: Russian and German. However, you cease to notice this after ten minutes, so enthralling is this painfully banal story of young people in love.  They met each other on the web – we know lots of these stories, everyone has a friend of a friend who met someone online and… etc. The intentional un-interestingness of this love story is underscored by the laconic set design by Danila Korogodsky. The curtain is roughly made of drawing paper; the windows are crooked cutouts; there is a random collection of cardboard boxes.

There is also a glass cage that occupies half the space on the stage, and takes on various roles throughout the play. It’s an airport terminal, a hotel bathroom, and occasionally, it even plays itself: a cage, where the mutual lack of understanding imprisons our infatuated main characters. Sometimes, it’s a giant window into a vibrant world with sun and sea, museums and churches. Other times, it’s a wall, inexorably blocking the way into love.

When it’s a wall, the lovers draw their worlds onto it, including their museums, churches, sun and sea. They explore this world and present it to each other as gifts. They even draw themselves into this world, but the sad thing is that then, one half of a couple is a living breathing human being, and the other is a nothing but a chalk sketch. On stage, the sketched lover even seems to move, thanks to tricky lighting and fancy projectors, but no matter how he tries, he cannot get off the glass wall, cannot embrace his flesh and blood other half. He cannot keep their love warm. And so, the lovers pace around the stage carrying silly articles of clothing, as though trying to substitute human warmth with wool.

The creators of this play only needed simple materials to relate this eternal and beautiful Love Story. It’s almost sad how simple. We already discussed the cardboard boxes and curtain, the chalk and the lighting.

But the sounds! While one is humming, the other is barking, the third is using a kitchen pan for a drum, someone else is starting to sing… Sax and electrical guitar show up as accompaniment – and here you have a delicate harmony, a symphony of loneliness and love, mutual understanding and unfortunate disunity.

You definitely feel pity for the young lovers with their wool and fake firebird. Although, of course, they still have a chance. They will know a new love. Much sadder are those who have forgotten the language of love, who not only no longer speak it, but also, have lost all ability to heed its heavenly sounds…

by Maria Brusovani

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