17 July 2020

The rich summer season continues with the premiere of the cult work “Madame Minister” by Serbian comedian Branislav Nušić, adapted and directed by Tatjana Mandić Rigonat. The performance will be held on Saturday, July 18, 2020, beginning at 9 PM.

The main role of Živana Popović, or the legendary Živko, will be played by the national drama principal Olivera Baljak, who with this role celebrates the 40th anniversary of her artistic work this autumn.

“Madame Minister” had its last premiere at the Rijeka Theatre nearly 60 years ago. The story of a politician’s wife who has to rapidly adopt the behavioral patterns and lifestyle of “high society” after her husband becomes a minister in the government has become almost synonymous with a sudden climb up the social ladder. Equally, Branisav Nušić’s name has become synonymous with laughter in the theatre, as well as for the unmistakable dissection of the provincial mentality mixed with Balkan charm and the richness of language with which he describes the comedy of our lives.

“The two major subjects of Nušić’s comedy are the government and the petty bourgeoisie. The great history of the world is written as a history of human foolishness from the pens of great comedians. And Nušić is undoubtedly a great, a classic – a contemporary, a companion. In “Madame Minister,” he extolled universal nonsense, the disorder that evokes a sense of importance and of one’s own greatness in a person who feels as if they have power. The hypertrophy of a power-loving subject. The diseases of society and the petty-bourgeois spirit of Nušić’s time which have further intensified, deepened and increased in ours.

The significant perspectives of his famous characters — Živka Ministarka, Uncle Vasa, Čeda, Pera Pisaro, Ninković and Nicaragua — are inconceivable. The evil about which Nušić writes is enduring; laughter does not eradicate it, but at least it destructively exposes it and for a moment cognitively defeats it,” points out director Tatjana Mandić Rigonat, who also explains why the play is performed in the original Serbian language. “The play is performed in Serbian, or more precisely in Nušić’s Serbian language, a lush, luxurious, rich language. Great writers have their own worlds, their own language. Nušić is a classic like Krleža or Držić. When we stage Krleža’s or Držić’s plays in Serbia, we do not adapt them linguistically. That would be violence, depriving the writer’s language of the senses of smell and taste.”

Regarding the Rijeka acting ensemble led by Olivera Baljak, the director says: “Olivera was born for this role. She feels it in every part of her being as an actress. There are few actresses who can go from tears to laughter in a second and vice versa, who alternate that easily between emotional extremes. Olivera has eros, the nerve that the role requires. The role of Živka has been played by the greatest actresses, and Olivera truly is a great actress.

Since “Madame Minister” is not a monodrama, and Živana Popović is not an outlier, but rather has a mentality stemming from the diseased environment to which she belongs, every character in the play is important, and they all weave a complex web of motives, goals, actions and meanings.”

Olivera Baljak thinks similarly about the role of Ministarka, saying that this is a role that a mature actress could only dream of. “She is a small time bomb with a burning desire for power. She is a synonym for the petty bourgeoisie who, when they seize positions of power, think that they are all-powerful, that life begins with them. Overnight, they become dangerous people who are not afraid to wield their power against anyone or anything. They shape the destinies of others and ruin their lives. There is a saying that if you let someone rule you will know what they are like, and yet that same Ministarka is somehow near and endearing to us. We laugh at her madness, not realizing that we recognize ourselves in her. That is the wisdom and beauty of Nušić’s manuscript.”