Broken Promise Land
Theatre Upstairs @ Lanigan's, Dublin
At one point in Mirjana Rendulic 's new play, which she also performs, a young woman studies her reflection and sees herself transformed. "I observe myself in the mirror as though I have different eyes," she says, appraising her body approvingly, like an object of desire.
The woman, Stefica, is a Croatian shop worker recently returned from her debut in an Italian strip club. Without a shiver of foreboding or tut of judgement, director Aoife Spillane-Hinks’s intelligent production makes Stefica both the observer and the observed.
Stefica's story takes her from the former Yugoslavia along a shady trail of forged documents to the lap-dancing clubs of Tokyo and Ireland. Rendulic and Spillane-Hinks know they need a more surprising route, though, to avoid our era's "fallen woman" narrative of naive girls lured into the sex industry, a form that titillates while it moralises.
Based on her own experiences, Rendulic’s play is more clever and Spillane-Hinks declines to sensationalise her performance. Demure and modest, Rendulic addresses us from a dispiriting bedsit lined with high-heels, letting her words do all the revealing. When she dances, it depicts a shop till (“Sliding, scanning, typing, bagging”), prefiguring more robotic routines to come.
Although Stefica conjures up a childhood during the breakup of Yugoslavia in brief vivid images – her mother making soup from flour and water, for instance – the war in the Balkans barely registers.
That's partly the point: after the fall of communism, Stefica's fantasies are informed by the rise of Beverly Hills 90210 .
Rendulic’s performance comes with such conversational sincerity that other details, breezily reported, can be truly jarring: a friend raped by her boss says: “It wasn’t anything serious.”
Although she dwells heavily on strip-club life, there's something slyly pointed about her involving delivery (I found myself nodding like an attentive student when she advised against body glitter), and although she will realise her own agency, the play has more subtle lessons about the illusion of freedom and power. "We like to believe we are emancipated," she says of her co-workers. "It makes us feel better." Who couldn't agree?