Friday, March 29, 2013

The Havel Collection: Ela, Hela, and the Hitch

Ela, Hela, and the Hitch is included in the Havel Collection as part of the book the contains The Pig

Ela, Hela, and the Hitch was, in a way, Václav Havel’s first play. It was written for the Artistic Director of the Theatre on the Balustrade, Ivan Vyskočil, as part of a longer evening, entitled Hitchhiking. Along with Ela, Hela, and the Hitch, Havel also wrote a sketch called Motormorphosis. Reportedly, Vyskočil altered Havel’s sketches for the performance, though this text is Havel’s original.

After Havel’s success with his first full length, The Garden Party, these earlier efforts were quickly forgotten. They were relatively recently rediscovered, through the detective work of a Czech theater scholar, Lenka Jungmannová. Motormorphosis was performed at the Havel Festival in 2006, a world premiere of the text as written. Ela, Hela, and the Hitch premiered in English translation following a revival of Motormorphosis at New York’s Bohemian National Hall in 2011.

What is particularly interesting about Ela, Hela, and the Hitch is the way it lays bare Ionesco’s influence on Havel. The rhythms of the play echo everything from The Bald Soprano to Salutations. Like Ionesco, Havel uses comic repetition that culminates in an explosion of language, during which words become meaningless, replaced only by the more visceral meaning one can attach to pure sound.

Another interesting side note is the societal conflict reflected in the main dilemma. Like many older members of the Czechoslovak upper middle class in 1961 (the year the play was written), Ela and Hela spoke German at school, and their behavior is definitely reflective of the German influence on their upbringing. They are separated from society not only because of their age, but because the younger generation had cut its ties with Germany.

So what Havel is doing is using Ionesco’s formal techniques, which Ionesco used primarily to critique humanity’s doomed attempts at communication, and applying those techniques to a societal critique. Which is, in fact, a prelude to what Havel would do throughout the rest of his playwriting career.

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