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“A country in transition, developing country, eastern partner, periphery, end of Europe, second-hand country, potential country, catch-up country, often forgotten country of Europe, buffer zone…” This line from Nicoleta Esinencu’s play, A Requiem for Europe (2017), lists descriptions of her homeland typically used by many in the EU. Esinencu lives in Chişinău, in the Republic of Moldova, which, her writing - nodding to history - suggests, both is and is not the country where she was born in 1978. Her play, cognizant of the difficult past, deploys saccharine satire to add: “Thank you, Europe, that in a way you also call us Europe.”

Esinencu already signalled her uncompromising vision and singular voice in her break-through play FUCK YOU! (2003). It unfolds as a scathing, humourous and ultimately tragic answer to an essay competition set by a prime minister: “What has my country done for me and how have I repaid the favour?” The play was first censored in Moldova and Romania, later celebrated – though the title had to be changed to Stopp Europa. The piece still generates controversy wherever it is performed. The themes Esinencu explored there continue to preoccupy her: the vexed relationship between Moldova and the EU, between Europe and the world, the individual and the state, between capitalism and all other visions or values, between the past and the present. Her approach unites documentary and poetry: forensically assembled facts expressed in tightly crafted, rhythmic lines. In the play Clear History she combines archive documents and eyewitness reports to examine Holocaust denial in Moldova. “The problem,” she’s reflected, “is we have a defective entrance to our own history.”

In 2007, she founded The Mobile European Trailer Theatre (METT) with a view to revitalizing theatre in her country and exploring unconventional forms of expression that resist the conflation of culture with capitalism, including the idea – as she puts it - of artist-entrepreneurs who must find investors. Although Esinencu is often involved in staging her plays, she insists, “I never wanted to be a director and I still do not think I do directing. I’ve always wanted to do things together with the actors and visual artists. […] I never think about how to do a play on stage, the most important thing for me is what I have to say.” Lack of funding hindered any sustainable practice for METT in Chişinău. In 2010 Esinencu co-founded the collective Teatrul Spalatorie, Laundry Theatre, but on-going logistical and financial challenges led to that also being disbanded in 2017.

All the while, Esinencu continued to write new pieces distinguished by sharp wit, pacey language and piercing insights. Her works have won awards and been performed worldwide, the dramas set in her country speaking to similar developments across the globe: privatization, deregulation, austerity. Developments that lead to a damning indictment at the end of one monologue listing the ruinous consequences of free markets and foreign investment: “Congratulations Moldova for your independence!”

Text: Priya Basil
Photo: Florin Tabirta

Events by DAAD
Autoren des Berliner Künstlerprogramms des DAAD zu Gast beim 19. internationalen literaturfestival berlin 11.-21.09.2019

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