Serbian comedies by Jovan Sterija Popovic, Branislav Nusic, and Dusan Kovacevic.
In the period between the two world wars, with only a few exceptions, nobody believed that Nusic was a great writer. Today, almost all people familiar with theater and the history of Serbian theater and literature would agree that Nusic was, in fact, the only Serbian playwright of high caliber between the two world wars. Thanks to the turns or whims of history, as well as the more open-minded theater people, Nusic became the most staged Serbian playwright and most popular after World War II. The new generations of theater directors realized that Nusic had a streak of genius and was, perhaps, 50 years ahead of his time for the Serbian theater.
The third playwright in this anthology, Dusan Kovacevic, has been one of the most prolific and popular Serbian playwrights on the Serbian theatrical scene since the 1970s. The first term that comes to mind when thinking about some of Kovacevic’s plays is grotesque, especially in The Marathon Family, one of Kovacevic’s first plays. He more or less continued in this manner in his other plays. Victor Hugo thought that grotesque was “the richest source nature can offer art.” The simplest explanation why grotesque is so effective is that it makes the contrasts more obvious while juxtaposing the ugly and the beautiful, the divine and the unholy, the sublime and the ordinary, the romantic and the dull. If we are directly confronted with beauty and ugliness, beauty starts shining brighter and becomes more obvious, forcing us to appreciate it more and not take it for granted. Kovacevic is a master of the grotesque and, for that reason, his plays may appear somewhat exotic, especially to foreign theater goers.
The Marathon Family play, as well as a movie made in 1982, based on a screenplay by Kovacevic himself and directed by Slobodan Sijan, was so popular in the former Yugoslavia and Serbia that, in 2013, theater director Milica Kralj decided to stage The Marathon Family with the male roles played by female actors. In such a situation, for instance, Grandma Pantelija resembles Josip Broz Tito, and the main goal of all the women in the family is to become CEOs of some kind. This was not the first time that this play was played by female actors. Actually, in 1996, director Jagos Markovic staged the same play with female actors and achieved much success. Similarly, also in 2013, the female roles in Mrs. Minister, directed by Tatjana Mandic Rigonat, were played by male actors at the Bosko Buha theatre.
By presenting these three playwrights and their comedies, we can follow the most important developments in the last few centuries and develop direct and indirect feelings about the state of affairs in Serbian society on many levels, not only on the level of literature and theater. Popovic was more of an intellectual and a didactic educator, desiring to enlighten the general populous and open their eyes through satire within the idea of the comedy of character. Meanwhile, Kovacevic uses his imagination more freely, relies much more on humor, and does not incorporate much satirical tone into his comedies. Somewhere between them, not only chronologically but also stylistically and in terms of the creative method, stands Nusic, as the most remarkable figure of the Serbian theatre.
– Dejan Stojanovic