KILLER JOE

Tracy Letts

ARÉNA THEATRE

Jiří Pokorný

KILLER JOE Tracy Letts (1965) started off as a waiter and became a successful actor in Chicago’s famous Steppenwolf Theatre. In 1990 he was one of the founders of the improvisational theatre company Bang Bang Spontaneous Theatre, which soon became famous all over the US. In 1991 he wrote his first theatre play, Killer Joe, shocking in its black humour, the amorality of its characters and its vulgar language. The masterfully written play, self-consciously straddling the border between grotesque and classical tragedy, was so innovative that directors who were approached were afraid to stage it. In 1993 Letts thus presented it himself in his own production. A year later it was garnering success at the Edinburgh Fringe, and gaining a place in the emerging trend of in-yer-face theatre. Today Letts is one of the most frequently-performed American playwrights and his plays gain the favour of both audiences and critics. In 2008 he won a Pulitzer Prize and a Tony Award for his play August: Osage County.

This brilliantly-written play has a well-built plot with unexpected twists and witty dialogues full of humour and vulgarisms. A good dose of exaggeration takes realistic situations to the level of a metaphor of a dysfunctional society, from which all values have disappeared and which has become violent and profit-driven.
Jiří Pokorný manages to get all this into the Ostrava production. This is the first time that the Aréna has invited him to work there, and it was a brilliant idea, since he himself has inclined towards in-yer-face both in his directorial work and as a playwright. Showing respect for the text and without unnecessary directorial mannerisms he builds up the various situations in a detailed set featuring a notably shabby typical American kitchen-living room. The characters’ swearing and trading of insults, as well as the parodical Western-like speeches of the elegant killer Joe, alternate with naturalistically-portrayed brawls.
– Pavla Bergmannová, Divadelní noviny

The play takes place over several days, and features five characters. Four are from the Smith family: father Ansel with his second wife Sharla, his grown up son Chris and teenage daughter Vicki, and the fifth is the police detective Joe Cooper. The dramatic action is set in motion by drug dealer Chris, whose life is in danger because he has lost his goods. He seeks salvation in his mother’s life insurance policy, and is to be helped in this by a detective who makes money on the site by dispatching inconvenient people. From the start it is clear that this will all end in an unexpected outcome… The theatre and film actor, playwright and screenwriter Tracy Letts encountered problems with his first play because of its vulgar language and the amorality of its characters, and he first showed it with his own company. A play originally considered a daring experiment is now no longer so provocative, as the crumbling moral order has led to various taboos falling, in this case one of the most basic ones. The dramatic treatment of the murder of a mother, since classical times classed as tragedy, here provocatively becomes a very dark comedy. The play may, however, also take the form of an icy psychological thriller, like its film version created by William Friedkin (2011). The breakneck – literally, as it turns out – conspiracy created by the family gives rise to tragicomic situations and plot twists that are heightened by the harsh, juicy language.
– Milan Lička, i-dnes

JIŘÍ POKORNÝ (1967) has for three decades been one of Czech theatre’s most distinctive personalities. A graduate of DAMU, his restless artistic nature has given rise to a large number of successful productions. From 1993 to 1997 he was head of the Činoherní studio in Ústí, and he has also headed HaDivadlo in Brno (1999-2004) and been a member of the artistic management of Prague’s Theatre on the Balustrade (2002-2006). In the 1990s he was one of the most distinctive representatives of Czech “in-yer-face” drama, with his plays Dad Shoots Goals (1997) and Rest in Peace (1998). The productions he directed were among the best to be seen on Czech stages (and many have been seen at Pilsen’s THEATRE festival). They include Wedekind’s Spring Awakening (1994) and Páral’s Professional Woman (1996) from his time at Ústí, Ravenhill’s play Faust (Faust is Dead) at HaDivadlo in 2000, and at the Balustrade Carriere’s La Terrasse (2001), Gabriela Preissová’s The Farmer’s Woman (2004) and Bergman’s Saraband (2008). At the National Theatre he guest directed Iva Volánková’s Crowded 22 (2003) and Harrower’s play Blackbird (2010), at the Dejvické divadlo Dealer’s Choice by Patrick Marber (2010) and most recently Ibsen’s Ghosts (2019).

ARÉNA CHAMBER THEATRE has over a quarter of a century of existence gradually worked its way up to the top of the Czech theatre scene, as shown by its entirely exceptional successes on a nationwide scale. It has won the Theatre of the Year award four times (2013, 2015, 2016, 2017). It focuses on “actor’s theatre” with charismatic figures through which it presents interesting social themes, shown in a modern chamber theatre for approximately a hundred audience members. For a number of years the company, whose productions are regularly shown on Czech television, has been invited to prestigious Czech and foreign theatre festivals. The theatre entered the 2018/19 season as the holder of its fourth Theatre of the Year award, and also with a change of director. After almost 25 years the first, and until then only director of the theatre, Renáta Huserová, left for a well-earned retirement, and Jakub Tichý became the new director.