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Daiva Čepauskaitė is a well-known poet and playwright. Her poetic voice is unique: the classic form of poetry infused with (self-)irony, sting, and criticism of modern life perfectly complements her lyricism and gentler humour.  Her texts crawl into the brain, where they are promptly memorized, and they do not become banal even when frequently repeated. In her dramaturgy she remains a bit of a poet, too, as her plays abound in metaphors and transformations. For a long time Daiva has been writing plays for children, and many of them have been produced in various Lithuanian theatres. Recently, a book of her plays for adults has appeared. Her colleague, the writer Gintaras Grajauskas says, “To me, the most beautiful thing is how Daiva observes and sees people—and she still finds people interesting. The most interesting.”
The excerpt from the play Duobė (The Pit) featured here is painful and stinging, and addresses the theme which has just begun being discussed openly in Lithuania: she writes about the Holocaust and about Lithuanians killing Jews, about an entire layer of our society that was massacred.   This play brought Daiva Čepkauskaitė the  Person of Tolerance award in 2011.

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by Jūratė Čerškutė

 

Daiva Čepauskaitė. Aš tave užmiršau, Vilnius: Lietuvos rašytojų sąjungos leidykla, 2016, 188 pages

Daiva Cepauskaite review 1

The actress, poet, and playwright Daiva Čepauskaitė stepped into the field of Lithuanian literature at a time of change, when the Soviet Union was collapsing and independent Lithuania was emerging. She graduated with a diploma in medicine but has never been a practicing doctor. As an actress, Čepauskaitė debuted on the stage in 1990. Her first poetry book, Bevardžiai (The Nameless) appeared in 1992 and the second collection, Suvalgiau vieną spanguolę (I Ate One Cranberry) was published in 1998.

For about ten years she wrote plays for children, most of which were staged at the Kaunas Chamber Theatre. In 2002, she wrote her first play for adults, Pupos (Beans), in which, like beans being shelled, the lifelong interpersonal relationships between elderly people and their wondrous, mundane rows are laid open. In 2006, this play was produced under the title kartu by Jūratė Paulėkaitė and Dainius Gavenonis at the Oskaras Koršunovas Theatre, and Čepauskaitė was bestowed the most important award of Lithuanian theater, the Golden Stage Cross, as the best playwright of the year.

In 2005, Čepauskaitė published her third poetry collection Nereikia tikriausiai būtina (Useless Most Probably Necessary) and was crowned the laureate of the Poetry Spring festival The Spring of Poetry. The ironic and somewhat reverse logic and subtle consideration for human feelings and relationships of Čepauskaitė’s lyric became even better known and accessible from the performance “Meilė iš paskutinio žvilgsnio” (Love at Last Sight, directed by Giedrė Beinoriūtė, 2006) staged to her poetry at the Keistuolių Teatras (Strangers’ Theater).  Andrius Kulikauskas’s music and Daiva Čepauskaitė’s poetry lodged in the minds of many thanks to such phrases as, for example: “I want to say—I love you / but I am ashamed / I might make a fool of myself / therefore I say—I hate you,” or : “my dearest does not know / the letters of the alphabet and numbers / but he knows there's me / and he would die if I didn't come back.”

Daiva Čepauskaitė has been writing plays for children and adults for twenty years; she feels theater and has an in-depth knowledge of it, yet it is only this year that she published her first book of plays, Aš tave užmiršau (I’ve Forgotten You). It contains three plays recalling her creative biography: the abovementioned play for adults Pupos; the play Musė (A Fly), which was written in 2003 and which focuses on the life of a young girl, a social outsider; and the play Aš tave užmiršau, which was written in 2011 about the Holocaust and is the central work in the book, and doubtlessly, one of Čepauskaitė’s most painful texts. This play, “the first in Lithuania in which the horrors of the Holocaust are conveyed openly, bravely, and honestly,” brought Daiva Čepauskaitė the Person of Tolerance award of 2011.

    Speaking of Čepauskaitė’s dramaturgy, one must emphasize its precise, laconic, and apt linguistic feeling and attention to details that play important roles in human relationships. The plays Pupos and Musė are distinct for their situational nature and lively characters and demonstrate a masterful control of dialogue and dramaturgic playfulness and appeal. These highly different texts confirm that the author really cares about people, their life situations, and their interactions with others. The central play of the book, Aš tave užmiršau, dissociates itself from the other two not only in its theme but also in its language, characters, and the construction of the dramaturgical situation. (On the other hand, the expulsion of forgetting into the zone of conscious ignorance for the sake of peace of mind is seen in Pupos and Musė, too.)

    As Čepauskaitė notes in interviews, the fact that the play about the Holocaust was written at the time of the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the Holocaust was a pure coincidence, preventing the play from being seen as specially written for the occasion. Still, the very theme of the play and society’s active avoidance of this theme are a special and specific issue. Čepauskaitė’s play, which dissects the situation of the Holocaust in Lithuania in the especially graceful manner of a dotted line, attempts to disclose the most painful aspects of this phenomenon by speaking of the Lithuanians who killed Jews, of the Lithuanians who rescued Jews, of “how simple it was to kill a human. No cruelty was needed for it. Indifference sufficed” (p. 167). Čepauskaitė does not shun the most common stereotypes about the Jews and the Holocaust so widespread in the media and in people’s minds in Lithuania; on the contrary, by choosing to use them the author reaffirms the need to talk about them through a calm assertion, through developing as vivid a picture of the past as possible, without condemning categorically or justifying only one side:

GOLDA. Were there many like you?
KOSTAS. What do you mean, like me?
GOLDA. Lithuanians who were shooting Jews.
KOSTAS. Not many.
GOLDA. But they shot a lot of people...
KOSTAS. More than were saved.
 (p. 167-168).

The play Aš tave užmiršau originally had the working title Duobė (“The Pit” in English), while the production directed by Stanislovas Rubinovas at the Kaunas Chamber Theatre was called Diena ir naktis, that is, “Day and Night.” It is a poignant story of love turned cruel; it is a story about love between a Jewish woman and a Lithuanian man during the Second World War, which the woman’s granddaughter tries to recreate with her lover in the present. It is a subtle, poetic and extremely literary text in which the games of its main characters, Milda and Andrius / Golda and Kostas, along with the past’s roles and lives transform them into symbolic figures of this painful and heartbreaking story. Although the author tries to create an intimate and personal story of the experience of one family, at times the characters seem like straightforward and unreal people, like illustrations of historical aspects of the Holocaust. This impression is created by the author’s admission that “lots of people, living and dead, helped me to write this play” (p. 186). Thus it is obvious that by constructing her characters from the stories of a multitude of people the author does not escape abstraction, the absolute and common denominators. In addition to this aspect of generalization, it should be noted that the episodes of present history do not outweigh the stories of wartime that are narrated in the play. (This aspect frequently trips up everyone who speaks of historical events and attempts to fuse them with the present.) On the other hand, which episodes of the present could outweigh the Holocaust? In spite of that, it is still hard to believe that Milda and Andrius are heroes of the present—there are too few symbols of the present and too little development. The latter abyss stands out as a contrast to those vibrant scenes from the life of Golda’s family: by resorting to the traditional Jewish sense of humor and by juggling with jokes about Jews, Čepauskaitė creates truly living and memorable pictures of the pharmacist Berelis Taicas and his family.

One of the central axes of the play is, without doubt, the motif of forgetting/forgetfulness which symbolizes the relation between the present and the past. “I don’t want to know anything,” insists Andrius from the present over and over again. He is comforted by Milda, also of the present, who quietly says “I am a Jew” and who has absorbed into herself all the Jewish experience of her family: “Just see. See the world which no longer exists” (p. 121). Čepauskaitė repeatedly draws this line of the past in the play and asserts that both the Lithuanians and the Jews must see the world that is no more. Aš tave užmiršau reiterates that there is no their history: everything is our history, with victims and executioners, with blame and wrongdoing. Therefore, there are Jewish and Lithuanian voices in the play, and those voices are united, without doubt, by Milda’s utterance “everything is now” (p. 146).

It is due to this all-inclusive now which protects all the experiences and lessons of history that the poetic moves of the poet Čepauskaitė are justified in the dramaturgic text: the abovementioned overlap of the roles and the apparent/ostensible play not only with those roles, but also with place, time, space, and history, the amazing description in poetic phrases of the existence of the rescued Jewish woman in the pit, the episode of Fruma’s ring in the present, and the closing episode of the play. The author is prevented from rendering the events and experiences in the play in a shallow, banal manner by poetic language. It allows her to uplift everything to a symbolic plane, and to highlight—concisely, yet no less painfully—the main dotted lines of the Holocaust: the ability to admit, the dangerous trap of forgetfulness, the conscious desire not to know, and finally, the courage to apologize and the conscious understanding that knowing is necessary. It is necessary that such things do not happen again and not all wounds have healed yet. Finally, it is necessary that the pit in the history of the Jews and the Holocaust—that pit in which life is lived with every last ounce of one’s strength, with confused feelings and roles—no longer exists against the backdrop of the history of Lithuania and in the discourse of consciousness.

 

 

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