WAT > eWAT > eWAT I. (December 2012) > Everything Is Greased, Idiots!
Karel Král

Everything Is Greased, Idiots!

 

Ivánek, my Friend...
In the fall of 2005 one theatrical production in the Czech lands was experiencing great success. Its title was Ivánek, my Friend, Can we Talk? or Would You Believe That Shit, formally it was in fact a stage reading, and its popularity at first seemed to be a lucky coincidence. The conversation of football officials recorded by secret services investigating bribery in football at first became a juicy morsel for the media, and soon after also for the theatre, which dug up the case to again shine on title pages, and thus stole part of the media attention also for itself. However, one would have hardly thought that secret recordings will become a rich source of Czech documentary theatre, especially comedy-wise.

Petr Čtvrtníček, the author and director of this initiation production, put the text together from actual wiretaps of various football big shots and referees with special focus on phone calls of Ivánek (Ivan Horník, the sports manager of the Viktorie Žižkov team) and Milánek (partly the syndicate chief of referees, Milan Brabec, partly the referee Milan Šedivý). However, the result is far from being accurately documentary. The identity of the speakers does not match reality – Ivánek and Milánek are prototypes as if from commedia dell´arte: two blockheaded wiseacres. The dialogues of the mentioned officials were also interlarded with the words of many other people, for example, those of Václav Zejda, an especially corrupt referee. He is in fact the author of the famous cover terms for bribes – carps, apples, pears; and he is the ‘co-author’ of the tough, sexist dialogue with the football delegate Jan Prášil about the female referee Dagmar Damková (Zejda: That´s enough for her, I will touch her cockroach in the showers right after that. / Prášil: Oh fuck, right, and your nails will come off. / Zejda: Not with my hand, with my football boot.) Čtvrtníček´s selection of statements that he used as the dialogues of Ivánek and Milánek can in general be considered quite successful.

It is symptomatic that Čtvrtníček preferred manly direct, tough vocabulary. The protagonists address each other with the title ‘friend’ but also ‘dragon’, ‘jerk’ and ‘bastard’, and the repeated phrases are full of vulgarities (“media dicks”, meaning journalists, are quite frequent), and obscenities (“would you believe that shit”, “I´ll be fucked now”). Such specific vocabulary creates a distinct atmosphere, and Čtvrtníček and the audience like it. Of course that Čtvrtníček is not an idiot, and he knows that these vulgarities come from the mouths of football crooks on high posts; nevertheless, he finds a certain delight in this language. He documents it in the show, the framework of which is a dialogue with his colleague actor and Milánek of the production, Jiří Lábus, where they adapt such vocabulary (and thinking and acting) for the theatre, and even more so in the book entitled Blood, sweat and slides (2006). In the book the script of Ivánek is framed by Čtvrtníček´s much longer, mystifying text about the production´s origin that is written in the football officials´ ‘poetics’. Čtvrtníček even offers some statistics of the show´s vulgarities (I presume that with only one exception, where the binary number is turned into a three-digit number): “From 19:00 sharp we have used 284 cums, 151 dicks, 657 jerks and cows, 101 bitches and once we even touched a cockroach.” The text also touches upon the contagiousness of ‘football language’ that Čtvrtníček labels as verbal disease. Personally, I find a great increase of dragons and cums in everyday speech from the time Ivánek was staged. This infection, similar to gonorrhoea or other diseases, destroys the body as well as good reputation, and it has probably affected language as a system, and thus everybody who uses it. While it should have been the other way around – those secretly recorded rascals should have been forced to verbal reformation as part of a sound punishment.

The football guys use such crude vocabulary to compensate for their socially aggrieved sentiment. Ivánek distributes ‘notes’ according to which the match is supposed to unwind, however, he “doesn´t do it for himself”; therefore he wants to “boss it around a little” in order to “help his luck a little bit”. He is among his own kind, “the proles of fucking football”. In connection with the proletarian use of language it is surprising that these football thugs talk only about corrupt doctors and journalists, no politicians are involved. Paranoia leads one to attribute it to the dramaturgy of superior positions that wanted to make some of the conversations public and others (those with politicians) not. Without paranoia one only knows what he knows, and barely suspects that in football certain officials are more than happy to make do with one another. Both points of view probably connect in the character of Miroslav Pelta. In the times of ‘Ivánek´s’ corruption he was the sports director of Sparta, and in the tapped phone calls he became notorious for his phrase “Everything is greased, idiots”. Sparta was also suspected of corruption. Nothing more. Today, Pelta is the chairman of the Czech and Moravian football association – in other words the head of Czech football.

A couple of years after the football scandal the political party Věci veřejné (Public matter) entered the Czech political stage proclaiming to put an end to local corruption while created as a ‘project’ of the security agency ABL that would thus be able to get hold of government contracts. The party demonstrated living up to its ‘detective’ origin not even one year after its marvellous entry on the political stage in the beginning of April 2011. The business plan was then revealed in a quite typical manner: the media made public a recording from 2008 where the owner of the party, Vít Bárta, informs the top managers of his agency about the secret ‘five-year plan’ of infiltration into politics. Maybe the recording was made public by the young star of Věci veřejné, and the chairwoman of their parliamentary club, Kristýna Kočí, maybe it was her colleague and vice-chairman of the party, Jaroslav Škárka, in other words the duo that in the scope of a few days sued Bárta for corrupting party colleagues, and was thus dismissed from the party. Speedily, another member of Věci veřejné, Lukáš Vích, made public his recording where Kristýna Kočí reveals her plans for an internal party coup d´état co-authored by Petr Tluchoř from ODS party and other politicians to Vích and another regional party official, Markéta Dobešová. Both the mentioned recordings, especially the more colourful one with Kočí, gained instant popularity.

Kristýnka or The Blonde She-Beast
The theatre reacted in a trice. Four days after the media released Vích´s recording A-studio Rubín staged a production, again in fact a stage reading, Kristýnka or The Blonde She-Beast. The production – or so it seemed – rounded off the events that up to then took place very quickly one after another: director Tomáš Svoboda and his colleagues can really be credited for such foresight. Their approach is in fact a blasphemy of the so-called high politics and the adequately high culture. The protagonists of the recordings – that is the politicians themselves - radically contributed to their own shame. As in the case of the football bribers it was enough to take their words, and read them out with only minimal theatrical effects.

Čtvrtníček put an orchestra at the back of the stage, Lábus and himself sat in the front, and only the referee (played by Josef Polášek) was allowed to walk across the stage and act. This set-up was interrupted only by a video projection of carp pond fishing. Everything was very simple even the choice of music and songs that gave the show a cabaret edge. The music – especially football and other sports melodies – was an evident product of unsophisticated association made original by weird tempos or ‘symphonic’ orchestration.

Svoboda opted for a similar method. The stage design was supplied by chalk drawings on the black wall of the basement theatre: this time it was mainly inscriptions describing how far it is from here via tunnel to the Senate, Parliament or the Prague Castle. Here also music numbers (borrowed as well as original) played their part. At the same time the songs had more than just simple illustrative function that would concentrate the spectator´s attention in only one direction, and the structure of the whole evening was ‘interrupted’ by several foreign elements right from the beginning. The gastroenterologist Jan Martínek´s lecture on the topic of constipation and another disorder when after sitting down on the toilet one´s sphincter does not loosen up but on the contrary tightens even more was especially successful. The doctor calls it ‘obstructive defecation syndrome’ the abbreviation thus matching that of the already mentioned political party – ODS.

This joke moved the show towards its political essence - the texts put together from both of the recordings. These were staged using significant theatrical caricature. For example, both of the ‘regional’ protagonists from the second recording, the staging of which took up most of the production´s scope, were ridiculous figures right from the start. Lukáš Vích, played by Ondřej Pavelka, wore a bumpkin titfer, a coat as if part of a folk costume, and in his hand he clutched a pitchfork. Markéta Dobešová wore a restrained dress and a blonde wig, however, she was played by a male actor, Lukáš Příkazký, and so the effect was sufficient. All three actors entered the stage equipped with various recording devices that they did not bother to hide from one another. This was – together with the energetic interpretation of Kočí by Barbora Poláková – the most evident sign of reality being affected by theatre.

Again, the dialogues from these two recordings did not have to be adapted, it was enough to articulate them, and emphasize the necessary. The similarity to the football tapes was quite striking especially the ‘distribution of notes’. Here also the protagonists came close to the typology of commedia dell´arte – let´s say a boasting loudmouth and an ambitious goose. However, as we moved upwards with the political protagonists we expected them to have more class. And really: a theatre frequenter could have come to the impression that he recognizes more heroic qualities here.

Kristýna Kočí is verbally the more frightening the more it is evident that she is only a naive girl, who simply boasts. Her gentle vocabulary includes ‘motherfucker’, ‘fuck’ as well as ‘bugger off’, ‘buzz off’ and ‘knock off’. This would be enough for the foundation of an innovated Lady Macbeth.

Still, it is nothing compared to Vít Bárta´s monologue that really has a Shakespearean dimension: “Today, political and economical power are one. Money produces power and power produces money. /.../ We have to admit that we as top management behave in the same manner as the existing elites /.../ we corrupt, we support favouritism /.../ I, Vít Bárta, /.../ am even tougher than that.” Isn´t it reminiscent of Malcolm´s self-accusation from Macbeth (IV.3.)? And isn´t it in this case even more up to the “reader” whether he will see in the speaker more of a scoundrel or a down-to-earth expert on reality?

However, in Rubín they wisely went for the more adequate comedy, and the loudmouth, and the goose. In this way they opened themselves a door to a sequel based on material the protagonists of which do not resemble Shakespeare´s villains in any respect as they have barely reached the puppet size of the characters from King Ubu.

The sequel was expected: the upcoming trial of the two accused, and yet mutually accusing politicians, Vít Bárta and Jaroslav Škárka, promised new material. However, from a theatrical point of view this event did not live up to the expectations: it presented chaotic and weak material. As if the aim of all the testimonies was blabbering that would ‘digest’ the truth and lies into some undistinguishable and stinking excrement. According to what I saw and heard I would not dare to decide on the guilt or innocence of the accused. However, in my eyes all of them stayed suspicious: the accused, the witnesses, politicians from all the parties who were or were not involved in the case.

The Blonde She-Beast II – The Beast Returns the Blow
The boring testimonies only now and then included some interesting, funny phrase, story or alibi. The kidnapping of Kristýna Kočí by some men in a Hummer Car, who put a balaclava on her head, turned off her cell-phone, and took her to a secret meeting somewhere outside of Prague, was among the most extraordinary stories. However, puerility (in this case resembling that of a B-action movie) is so typical for the behaviour of Czech officials of all kinds that I wasn´t sure for a moment: maybe the story is true. And maybe that is why the creators of The Blonde She-Beast II – The Beast Returns the Blow did not use it even though it is so amusing.

I think that even the creative team from Rubín was quite disappointed with the trial especially since this time the protagonists´ equipment so often failed. They spied on each other where they could; however, it was quite difficult to understand the recordings. It is a cunning paradox that Kristýna Kočí is among those, who speak quite clearly – she forgot to switch off her dictaphone, and in court presented a recording where in the end she again boasts about her intrigues and declares that she is going to “buzz off Bárta”. This recording came in useful in Rubín. It suited the image of ‘innocently naive’ Kristýnka more than her otherwise memorable declaration that she had said it “after a conceptual meeting-party, where 10 bottles of French wine were drunk, and during which Vít Bárta apart from other things asserted that he has control over Putin and Obama, and that he walks Klaus as a puppet.”

It is understandable that the more the protagonists were boring in reality the more the theatre made them amusing. Vít Bárta (Lukáš Příkazký), who became famous for his crying in court, sprays tears around from a rubber balloon like a clown. Radek John, in reality ‘only’ a jovially grim chairman of Věci veřejné, is played by Ondřej Pavelka, who turns him into a mightily clumsy drunkard. And Bárta´s wife and party colleague, Kateřina Klasnová, is simply a doll in the show, a Barbie carried around in Bárta´s suitcase. The stage version of the trial with Bárta and Škárka is far from faithful in a documentary manner; on the contrary, the passages from the phone tapping of Pavel Bém (ODS) from the times he was the Prague city mayor with the ‘godfather’ businessman Roman Janoušek are a transcribed copy of reality. These appeared during the trial with Bárta and Škárka possibly intentionally (one theory claims that the media were provided with the recording by ABL) from the theatrical point of view it definitely was a lucky revelation. The recordings gave the show zest, and indirectly made possible the return of a certain half-forgotten theatrical ‘genre’ to the Czech stage.

It was no accident that after the procurement of the Bém-Janoušek recordings the internet thrived with the comparisons of their dialogues with those of the football officials. It really seems to be coming out of a single ‘source’. Bém and Janoušek call each other Hummingbird, Mollycoddle, Maori princess and Colombo, they use secret cover names for those they are talking about, they distribute and accept “notes”, and they want to “orchestrate” the media so that the “bastards” will not pose “fucking questions”. Bém and Janoušek must have read children detective stories a lot: when masking cases that are to be solved they call them “stumps” that do not belong in woods, “dead horses” or “envelope problems” that – as Janoušek hopes – never existed.

This puerility nicely matches Kristýnka´s naivety, and the atmosphere of kids´ games that all the high ranking officials and politicians in the show play. When the court, so to say, does not pay attention Bárta, Kočí and Škárka (Příkazký, Poláková and Jan Vlas) stick their tongues out at each other, make faces, throw paper balls at one another, and they even stick their bottoms out at each other like kids in primary school. Bém and Janoušek (Příkazký and Vlas again) are also a childish duo playing golf on a runty coaster from which they mainlined some heroin just a moment ago. The first one mentioned then climbs the Himalayas (the pipe above the stage), and the second one whips himself in the “sauna” with Škárka´s toupee instead of a besom. In spite of all this the show is not just simple fun.

Maybe it helped that the production used two separate narratives that the engaged matador of political drama and publicist, Karel Steigerwald, and the co-authors of this piece did not forcefully connect even though it sort of suggested itself: according to Škárka, Věci veřejné got a financial contribution before the elections from Roman Janoušek. The production is coherent simply because everything happens in the scope of one theatre evening-court trial.

The Rubín ensemble follows up the first Blonde She-beast with the same actors in the roles of Kočí and Bárta as well as other things. In the sequel they also used an absolutely simple stage (two tables, some chairs and a music stand), which is again supplemented by chalk drawings on the wall – this time illustrational ones. Here also doctor Martínek presents a lecture (this time, as an expert appointed by court, answering the question whether we are all fucked). And this time also we get to hear popular as well as original melodies sung in a cabaret-like manner: in the end Poláková steps out of her role, and sings a new hit – We are fucked.

This finale is a bit too pathetically militant but at the same time it is a commentary of sorts - a ‘figure’ quite crucial for the second Blonde She-beast. The song comments on the bad mood that the scandals provoked. Ondřej Pavelka, whose character oscillates between a court servant and a narrator, tells an introductory crazy fairy-tale that is an insane commentary of the insanity of the cases in question. Škárka´s dog, who also testifies in the theatre court, has a similar role: he repeats and thus comments on the declarations from Bárta´s ‘five-year plan’. And the scenes with the three big Czech unresolved corruption scandals – all played by Eva Salzmannová – are comments on the pettiness of the current case in court. The audience has a reason to believe that everything really is ‘greased’ anyway and that the court trial is only a device for “pacifying the common folk”. However, many of us would like to believe the Judge (Michal Dudek), who thinks that it is going to be the big scandals´ turn now.

The theatrical ‘genre’ that returns to the Czech stages with The Blonde She-beast II is the so-called live news that could experience a renaissance of sorts in the times of an over-abundance of information. Live news could become the platform of commentators, who not only document what is happening but who also state the various (!) things they think about it.

The May 2012 arrest of the Central Bohemian county representative, the former Minister of Health and a high ranking social democrat (ČSSD), David Rath, at the moment when he was carrying a seven million bribe, was a hopeful event. At the same time this new scandal proved that the secret recordings – this time police wiretap – stay a popular, quality source of comedy and Czech documentary theatre.

Ivánek, my Friend, Can we Talk? or Would You Believe That Shit, dramatization of the police wiretaps of football officials, directed by Petr Čtvrtníček, premiere April 23, 2005 in Divadlo Na zábradlí

Kristýnka or the Blonde She-beast, directed by Tomáš Svoboda, A studio Rubín, premiere April 17, 2011

The Blonde She-beast II – The Beast Returns the Blow, script Karel Steigerwald in cooperation with Kryštof Pavelka, Jan Martínek and others, directed by Tomáš Svoboda, song texts Barbora Poláková, music Miki Jelínek and B.Poláková, mask Jana Preková, A studio Rubín, premiere April 1, 2012

english version of the article from Svět a divadlo magazine, issue 3, volume 2012

translated by Ester Žantovská