THE ELEGANCE OF THE MOLECULE Three molecules, three men with a vision and the courage to take risks.
A story of vision, foresight, luck and a reward that came too late. This play by one of the Czech Republic’s most accomplished contemporary playwrights looks at the complex figure of Professor Antonín Holý, the Czech chemistry genius who was one of the fathers of the AIDS drug now used by over eighty percent of patients all over the world. It is often no more than a few hundred metres from the chemical laboratory to the pharmacy on the nearest corner. On its way from one to the other, however, a molecule of the drug passes through a process costing hundreds of millions of dollars and frequently participated in by thousands of people. If, that is, the molecule is lucky enough to reach its goal. Zelenka’s play follows three such substances and their three “fathers,” one of whom was Professor Holý. It looks at the creation and highly dramatic industrial development of substances from Czech chemical laboratories, combines documentary elements and fiction, and lightens scientific facts with humour.
Petr Zelenka says of his work on the play: “Although I know almost nothing about chemistry, I began to be proud of Professor Holý. He and the people around him had a huge amount of luck, of course, but their invention, which works so well in practice, is a thing of genius. He and his team invented the effective termination of DNA transcription. They were in the right place at the right time, and they were prepared. Their life story covers the end of the bipolar world, the rise of HIV and also the rise of the gigantic pharmaceutical company that entered the world top ten as a result of those three Czech molecules. I started talking about all this to my friends and acquaintances, and discovered that most of them did not know who Antonín Holý was. So I started writing.
How to create the event of the season: write a good play, direct it well and act it well. It sounds simple, but the author has to be Petr Zelenka and for Elegance of the Molecule he has to have the company of the Dejvice Theatre.
Zelenka directs his story with verve – dialogue follows dialogue, and the various parts flow across the stage in an almost video-like way. The production features well-managed projections, which underline the clever and engaging theatre.
– Tomáš Šťástka, idnes.cz
In Elegance of the Molecule the author ingeniously connects documentary elements and fiction, plays with time, lightens the seriousness of the subject with unforced humour and cynical grimaces. He deliberately does not forgo subtle pathos and sentiment.
– Saša Hrbotický, Aktuálně.cz
Space for catharsis is opened up by the very paradox of Holý’s illness and death; the man whose work helped so many people can only watch helplessly as his strength drains away. Myšička shows the scientist’s drowning mind with a sort of moving astonishment that refuses reality. Holý’s “opposite number” is the American John C. Martin, an ardent biochemist capable of risking a huge amount for his research. Ivan Trojan equips him with dry humour and detachment, not losing his cool even in extreme situations. He alternates enthusiasm, intransigence and emotionally-tinged admiration for Professor Holý with a confident lightness.
– Jana Machalická, Lidové noviny
Zelenka as the author does not lose his wit and irony, and compresses events in such a way that many years of waiting for test results or the search for investors in the biopharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences succeed each other with dramatic pace… [Ivan Trojan as John Martin] talks about the beauty of the molecule as if it were an antique sculpture, and his enthusiasm is so infectious that he is believed even by audience members for whom chemistry lessons were a time of suffering.
– Z. A. Tichý, Česká televize, Art Zóna
Trojan’s character study, blessed with charisma, shows us a chemist who in human terms is solid and empathetic, but is also a fighter willing to take risks. As he rises upwards, he combines ethical pathos with economic ferociousness. Martin Myšička plays Holý as a man both eccentric and fractious, in some situations not entirely just (he fires from his team someone who, like he, was in the Communist Party, just so that the team does not have an overly high percentage of former party members in the new political situation). Myšička’s performance is particularly strong in the final, when, in a tragicomic telephone conversation, his once razor-sharp brain confuses the names of his foreign colleagues with his own name.
– Jan Kerbr, Divadelní noviny
PETR ZELENKA (1967) Playwright, screenplay writer, film and theatre director. Studied screenplay writing and dramaturgy at FAMU in Prague. He made his debut as a director in 1993 with a fictitious documentary about the punk band Visací zámek. His film work is among the most distinguished in contemporary Czech cinematography, with most of his films having received prestigious Czech and foreign awards. He won the main prizes at the Moscow and Karlovy Vary festivals for his films Year of the Devil (2003) and Tales of Common Insanity (2005). His film The Brothers Karamazov (2008) was put forward by the Czech Film Academy for an Oscar for best non-English film. In autumn 2015 he released his film comedy Lost in Munich to great acclaim. Petr Zelenka made his theatre debut as both an author and director in 2001 with Tales of Common Insanity at the Dejvické divadlo. The play won the prestigious Alfréd Radok Award in 2001, and in 2005 its successful film version premiered. The play has been successfully performed in a number of theatres not only in the Czech Republic, but all over Europe and even in Argentina and Uruguay. In 2006 his play Teremin premiered in the Dejvice Theatre. Ivan Trojan as the real-life Russian scientist, inventor, musician and spy L.S. Theremin won a Divadelní noviny award. Further significant plays by Petr Zelenka are Purification (commissioned by the famous Stary Teatr in Krakow, 2007), Endangered Species (National Theatre, 2011) and Job Interviews (South Bohemian Theatre in České Budějovice, 2014). In 2012 Zelenka returned as a playwright and director to the Dejvické divadlo with the play Dubbing Street, which then became the basis for the serial of the same name that he wrote and directed in 2018 for Czech Television. His most recent theatre production is The Elegance of the Molecule. Zelenka’s plays have been translated into many languages, and a number of them have been published abroad, for example by the prestigious French publisher Les Solitaires Intempestifs. His collected dramatic works were published in Czech in 2012 by Acropolis under the title Common Madness.
DEJVICKÉ DIVADLO The theatre was founded in 1992. Following the departure of the original company, headed by Jan Borna, its artistic head from 1996 to the end of the 2013/14 season was director Miroslav Krobot. From 2014-2016 the artistic head was Michal Vajdička, who had been working with the theatre from 2011 as director of the production A Blockage in the System. Since January 2017 the new artistic head has been Martin Myšička, a member of the theatre’s company since 1997. The theatre’s dramaturgy goes in several directions. As well as showing original plays by contemporary European and world authors, the theatre focuses on works by distinguished Czech and Slovak playwrights who write their work directly for the DD’s company, and in most cases also participate in directing it (J. A. Pitínský, Miroslav Krobot, Petr Zelenka, Jiří Havelka, Karel František Tománek, Viliam Klimáček, Petra Tejnorová, Daniel Majling and others). A further significant component of the dramaturgy is singular interpretations of world classics. During its existence the Dejvické divadlo has five times been declared Theatre of the Year, with further significant awards being won both by productions and individual members of the company. Every year the Dejvice Theatre’s name appears in nominations for the most prestigious theatre awards. The theatre has one of the most stable and harmonious companies of actors, with members who frequently appear in film, television and on the radio.