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Juozas Miltinis and the Laboratory for the Modern Consciousness
Šarūnė Trinkūnaitė
Juozas Miltinis was a talented diplomat. He understood that the right to an excellent, intelligent and serious theatre bore a high price, one that he paid regularly, time and again staging "correct" (i.e. hopelessly dismal and monotonous) Soviet productions. Their presentation protected the true theatre beneath, one that spoke in the literary words of the world's classics, confronted the most painful questions of human existence and employed the tools of modern stagecraft.
The voice of this theatre was first heard before Miltinis even officially assumed his duties in Panevėžys, with the production (under his secret direction) of Ibsen's Hedda Gabler in 1957, and Death of a Salesman in 1958, the first staging of the Arthur Miller play anywhere in the Soviet Union. These two productions gave an early demonstration of Miltinis' unique ability to examine complex, multifaceted and paradoxical characters. The director was able to liberate himself from the inertia of the representation of a socialized man, and concentrate his vision on the reality of man's individual consciousness, to introvert and intellectualize the person in his own way. He penetrated deeply in search of the sensitive nerve of human existence: the "tangle of extremes" raging through the soul of Hedda Gabler (played by Eugenija Šulgaitė), Marijana Malcienė, „Panevėžio dramos teatras“, in: Lietuvių tarybinis dramos teatras: 1957–1970, sudarė Algirdas Gaižutis, Vilnius: Vaga, 1987, p. 244. or the suffocating, impenetrable inner contradictions of Willy Loman (Donatas Banionis), rooted "in the deepest labyrinths of psychology, consciousness and subconsciousness," in Death of a Salesman. Markas Petuchauskas, Donatas Banionis, Vilnius: Mintis, 1976, p. 44.
At the end of the 1950s, Miltinis debuted as a director examining the contradictory and inexplicable nature of modern consciousness. This theme was explored with full force in the "golden" productions staged at the Panevėžys Drama Theatre in the 1960s that transformed the city into one of the theatrical capitals of the Soviet Union: Chekhov's Ivanov (1960), Shakespeare's Macbeth (1961), and Wolfgang Borchert's The Man Outside (Draußen vor der Tür) in 1966. This was the start of what would become the phenomenon of Lithuanian theatre, an idea that was solidified by other Lithuanian stage giants, and expanded upon internationally.
In a certain sense, these different productions together comprised a trilogy. Most likely they were connected primarily by Miltinis' existentialist burden: they resonated as variations of the same existentialist theme of man's infinite loneliness in a cold, alienated world. Expanding on this theme with each production, Miltinis increasingly refined, emptied and increased the austerity of his stagings, until he was finally left with sets using only lighting effects and music, revealing and baring his hero like a surgeon using a scalpel to penetrate into the the deepest layers of the hero's consciousness, sketching out its ever more complex webs. Miltinis constantly sought out opportunities for effective forms of expressing on stage the portrait of a self-injured hero, trapped and lost within himself.
His main creative instrument, however, remained the same: the essential creative material of the productions themselves, whose most important reason for success was the exceptional quality of the acting: extraordinary realism, naturalness and simplicity accompanied by a presence on stage that demonstrated an almost impossible internal tension and precision. This allowed the actors to penetrate the aching and shocking resonance of the tragedy of splintered, fragile, and discordant souls, tired even of themselves, that so fascinated Miltinis. Stasys Petronaitis portrayed Ivanov as "outwardly modest and thoughtful" but internally infinitely "fragile, vulnerable and dramatic". Marijana Malcienė, „Panevėžio dramos teatras“, in: Lietuvių tarybinis dramos teatras: 1957–1970, sudarė Algirdas Gaižutis, Vilnius: Vaga, 1987, p. 255. Petronaitis later embodied Macbeth as inflicted by "internal contradictions" or persistent "spiritual crises", Dovydas Judelevičius, Gyvasis Šekspyras, Vilnius: Vaga, 1964, p. 152. committing ever more brutal crimes and thereby increasing his own suffering and self-loathing, while Donatas Banionis' Beckman in The Man Outside was a man experiencing "the stages of tragic disappointment like Dante's circles of hell" Markas Petuchauskas, Donatas Banionis, Vilnius: Mintis, 1976, p. 69. and suffering silently through the entirety of his own horrible memories, a reproachful conscience, nightmarish visions and hallucinations, and a monstrous loneliness.
By the 1960s, Miltinis had become the undeniable authority on directing the complex human spirit, and the company in Panevėžys had demonstrated the highest calibre of acting. The Panevėžys Drama Theatre diligently supported and, most importantly, upheld this reputation.
Up to Miltinis' departure in 1980, the Panevėžys Drama Theatre operated as a kind of laboratory for the exploration of the human consciousness. After its triumph in the first half of the 1960s, this laboratory became more free, more diverse in genre, and more experimental in its own way. In the late 1960s, it presented a diptych of works by Friedrich Dürrenmatt: The Physicists (1967) and Frank the Fifth (1969). These productions revealed an effort to express irony, paradox, the grotesque, and the absurd, and to discover, in Miltinis' words, "a new genre", something "between tragedy and farse". Juozo Miltinio repeticijos: I knyga, parengė Juozas Glinskis, Vilnius: Baltos lankos, 1997, p. 71.
Later, in 1973, the theatre presented August Strindberg's intimate family drama Dance of Death, arduously unraveling "the macabre dance of life, death, love and hatred" performed by a clearly imprisoned trio of "three strange, tragic and lonely people: Captain Edgar (Donatas Banionis), his wife Alice (Dalia Melėnaitė) and her cousin Kurt (Bronius Babkauskas)". Egmontas Jansonas, „Gyvenimo ir mirties sūpuoklės“, Literatūra ir menas, 1973-05-26, p. 6. Somewhat later, in the late 1970s, the theatre immersed itself in an examination of the stylization of ancient theatre. Miltinis presented Sophocles' Oedipus Rex (1977), described as a "monumental, uncommon production, posing the most basic existential questions". Dovydas Judelevičius, „Panevėžio dramos teatras“, in: Lietuvių teatro istorija. Kn. 3: 1970–1980, sudarė Irena Aleksaitė, Vilnius: Kultūros, filosofijos ir meno institutas, 2006, p. 277.
Miltinis' theatre was at its most effective when it succeeded in penetrating the most secret tensions of modern consciousness and taking hold of the deepest inner human nerve. It was this pursuit of the depths of human tragedy that distinguished Miltinis' direction against the backdrop of Lithuanian theatre of his day, and called attention to the superficial interpretation of world classics and modern dramaturgy that was increasingly prevalent on other Lithuanian stages at the end of the 1960s. Theatres "accused" of such behavior included the Academic Drama Theatre after Juozas Rudzinskas' Hamlet in 1959, a production of Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman that same year, a staging of Goethe's Faust in 1965, or the production in 1967 of Kazys Saja's triptych Orator. Maniac. Prophet Jona, under the direction of Kazimiera Kymantaitė; the Kaunas Drama Theatre after a staging of Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra by Henrikas Vancevičius in 1966, and the Šiauliai Drama Theatre after Mamertas Karklelis' attempt to tackle Dürrenmatt's Trial at Midnight in 1967, and others.
The authority won by Miltinis' theatre seemed to prompt other Lithuanian stages to strive harder, nurturing greater awareness of and sensitivity for literature, and encouraging a capacity to create qualified stage imagery and give proper attention to the acting craft.
The 1960s also saw the emergence of a poetic-psychological realist movement most clearly manifested in the best productions of the day directed by Henrikas Vancevičius.


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Sources and links

Juozo Miltinio repeticijos: I knyga
Parengė Juozas Glinskis, Vilnius: Baltos lankos, 1997
Egmontas Jansonas
„Gyvenimo ir mirties sūpuoklės“
Literatūra ir menas, 1973 05 26
Dovydas Judelevičius
Gyvasis Šekspyras
Vilnius: Vaga, 1964
Dovydas Judelevičius
„Panevėžio dramos teatras“
Lietuvių teatro istorija. Kn. 3: 1970–1980, sudarė Irena Aleksaitė, Vilnius: Kultūros, filosofijos ir meno institutas, 2006
Marijana Malcienė
„Panevėžio dramos teatras“
Lietuvių tarybinis dramos teatras: 1957–1970, sudarė Algirdas Gaižutis, Vilnius: Vaga, 1987
Markas Petuchauskas
Donatas Banionis
Vilnius: Mintis, 1976
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