tragicomedy by Dušan Kovačević

About Performance

Reference list of works on Dušan Kovačević’s plays consists of hundreds of studies, analyses, essays, reviews, doctoral dissertations, master and graduation theses... and it keeps getting bigger. Our renowned critics, theatre experts, as well as drama and theatre historians wrote about Kovačević (Petar Marjanović, Jovan Hristić, Petar Volk, Vladimir Stamenković, Dragan Klaić, Jovan Ćirilov, Svetislav Jovanov and many others). Their works discuss many different aspects of Kovačević’s opus, but one theme is a constant – comparison with Nušić. Therefore, Jovan Hristić’s review on the opening performance of Balkan Spy in the Yugoslav Drama Theatre in 1983, is titled “Nušić and His Disciple”. Only a couple of years later, Vladimir Stamenković, in his Preface to the Collected Plays by Dušan Kovačević, compares the two comedy playwrights. Although he states that the only undoubtful similarity is that “Kovačević’s popularity can be compared only to Nušić’s at the time when he was at his best”, he emphasizes that there is “a depth Kovačević introduced into Serbian comedy” and gives a comprehensive analysis of all comedy elements (starting from his approach to laughter, comic elements, experimentation with genres, complex plots, to metaphorical transformation of realistic situations), thus proving that the poetry of the playwright is unique, and when comparing him with Nušić – he gives preference to Kovačević! Stamenković’s thesis regarding intertwining of dramatic (even tragic) elements with comedy is significant, which, according to him, is the main reason for universality of Kovačević’s tragic comedies, regardless of their local character regarding themes and characters. This is, we believe, the reason why they are relevant and easily understandable at different periods of time whenever they have been performed throughout the world.


Balkan Spy starts as one of Nušić’s comedies; however, it continues as a grotesque and ends like a Kafkian nightmare that gives us chills. The path throughout various genres of Dušan Kovačević’s plays passes with astonishing and brilliant acceptance of their naturality; without one moment of wavering, without a single slip, they purposefully move towards their point. Simply, in Balkan Spy Kovačević reveals himself as a master of drama tradition. I have said ‘one of Nušić’s comedies.’ Without a doubt, Dušan Kovačević is a worthy disciple and heir to Nušić in our drama literature. His plays The Marathon Family, Radovan III, Lumination, The Collective Centre and Balkan Spy positively identify some constant features of our lives, just as comedies Suspicious Person, Member of the Parliament, Mrs Cabinet Minister’s Wife or The Bereaved Family used to at the time. Of course, Kovačević is still a young author and it would be imprudent to state that he has already written his Mrs Cabinet Minister’s Wife or The Bereaved Family, but I have no doubt that he would write them, furthermore, he would do so by using his own quite modern humour that takes no prisoners regarding our national characteristics and traditions, and does not refrain from absurd when their most hidden mechanisms need to be revealed. With Balkan Spy, Kovačević has shown that not only is he an heir to Nušić, but that Nušić’s comedies are not merely an image of our lives, instead they are grand and everlasting formulas of our lives. Because, if we take a better look into Kovačević’s play, we cannot but notice that he, in fact, has taken Suspicious Person, turned it upside down and introduced it to our time. However, the debt to Nušić does not belong only to Kovačević; it is the debt we all owe to the great comedy playwright who knew how to discover some basic characteristics and situations in our social life, the situations that, with more or less variation, exist even today, and they would exist for long time in this country where inveteracy, ruthlessness and conceit shall remain overwhelming. Balkan Spy is a play about political paranoia. Ilija Čvorović used to worship Stalin at a certain point in time and has spent two years in jail. He drives “Moskvitch” and, with numerous loans, is building a house somewhere at the outskirts of Belgrade. After much persuasion by his wife, Ilija agrees to take a tenant to alleviate some of his financial problems. The tenant, Petar Jakovljević is a tailor who had worked in Paris for twenty years. During his career Petar managed to save 140,000 dollars; now he is trying to find his way through the forest of our municipal bureaucracy and open a salon in Belgrade. Everything would have been all right and would have ended as a discussion about old and new values over a cup of coffee and a shot of rakija, if Ilija Čvorović had not been summoned into the Police Station one day, where inspector Dražić asked him several routine questions about his tenant. Guided by unmistakable paranoid logic of totalitarianism, Ilija Čvorović becomes obsessed with finding proof that Petar Jakovljević is a foreign agent, a dangerous imperialist spy; therefore, it becomes Čvorović’s responsibility to protect society from Jakovljević. Čvorović starts following Jakovljević around, takes photos of him, listens in and records Jakovljević’s conversations, buys cameras and voice recorders, then asks his brother, Đura, for help and Đura shows up with arsenal of weapons. Finally, when Jakovljević is about to travel to New York to visit his son who is going through a health crisis, unfortunately the city is considered the capital of global imperialism, so the Čvorović brothers capture, interrogate and with well known methods try to force confession about spying and diversion activities, therefore, the innocent Parisian tailor – just like Nušić’s character, Đoka – finds himself in a situation of “spy-mania”.


In Kovačević’s plays everything is different from what is characteristic of Nušić. In order to understand to which extent the two differ, but also to understand what is distinctive with Kovačević’s method, we have to follow the trail he points to in an interview about modern Yugoslav theatre. In that text, Kovačević points out that many directors interpret his works as burlesque, probably convinced that he wrote them to make the audience laugh until they cry. He, then, explicitly says that he has never been interested in comedies that accentuate comic actions, witticisms or double entendre.
(…) Nušić, as Josip Kulundžić accurately states, creates in two dimensions. He always starts from a basic situation, from which many other similar situations result. (…) However, as the conflicts are not real confrontations, instead they are speech competitions, the characters are not real “characters”, not even the characters in comedy of situation, nor the characters in comedy of character. They are types with firmly set comic traits, they could be part of inoffensive farce with a single goal to make us laugh. (…)
Contrary to Nušić, Kovačević creates in three dimensions: probability, authenticity of the situation that ensues from the one that precedes. He pays much attention to the plot, he diversifies it by making it find its way through other, secondary plots, which are in correlative connection and support other secondary plots. Not even his basic situation possesses the importance Nušić gives it: point of the plot is not to enlighten the basic situation from different perspectives. In his plays, the characters are not limited and absurd because the situation calls for it, the scenes do not narrow down their inner lives, and he does not make them resemble static caricatures. Heroes in his plays are somewhat real “characters”, persons with complex psychological setup, sometimes they are individualized even more than the nature of comedy allows. Witty puns, as well as the speech component, are not exclusive means to produce laughter, or comic element of the plot. They enable the playwright to deepen characterization of dramatic personae, to show what is original in them. Those “characters” create the story with their actions, while the main plot is recognised as the image of life where Evil triumphs over Good. In accordance to this, Kovačević’s heroes are dark, obsessive people, obsessed with mania conditioned by peculiarity of their position in society. In fact, Kovačević’s comedies rely on dramatic stories interlaced with humour, they are made of material that can also be introduced into tragic drama. In his comedies, comic plot develops from a dramatic nucleus, from a story that can easily be reduced to one or two concise sentences that define one of the problems that many people in modern society face, there is a dramatic collision between traditional and modern, collective and individual, ideological and ethical, pathological and natural.
Balkan Spy holds a special place in Serbian comedy opus because it provides a brilliant case analysis of a man who becomes a victim of stalking behaviour, who sees the world as a systematic conspiracy against himself and the ideals he holds dear, who creates a well-organized totalitarian order around himself while being obsessed with his mania. The theme, obviously, can be more fully expressed in dramatic form. (…) Kovačević’s plays are distinct kind of comedies with dramatic tension, they are observations about human nature, and their heroes, created according to the model provided by individuals from today’s urban fauna, they are precisely defined, comical in their tragic situation and tragic when they are at their most comical. Although they belong to comedy, there are many elements in them that can place them in drama.
In Kovačević’s plays, therefore, the universal does not overcome the regional because he portrays a modern city, a man whose universe does not reach further than the skyscraper’s tops surrounding him, whose views do not go beyond limited city horizon. He succeeds in this because in his type of comedy he portrays a single law of life, its vital rhythm, connected with questions asking who we are really, what we think about ourselves, what we expect, what happens to us, that show up behind the dramatic story with political and social, psychological and ethical, with anthropologic potential. This is his advantage over Nušić and Popović; in their plays the same rhythm does not work in such complex, substantial context.

Dušan Kovačević was born in Mrđenovac near Šabac on 12th July 1948. He finished primary school in Šabac and grammar school in Novi Sad in 1968, and in 1973, he graduated from the Department of Dramaturgy at the Academy for Theatre, Film Radio and Television in Belgrade. Dušan Kovačević wrote the following plays: The Marathon Family, Radovan the Third (1973), What Is It in Human Beings that Makes Them Drink? (1976), Spring in January, Space Dragon (a work for children written in verse) (1977), Limunation in the Countryside (1978), The Collective Centre (1982), Balkan Spy (1983), Saint George Slays the Dragon (1986), The Claustrophobic Comedy (1987), The Professional (1990), Roaring Tragedy (1991), Larry Thompson - Tragedy of a Youth (1996), The Five-Star Dumpster (1999). He has stage directed world premieres of some of his plays in the Zvezdara Theatre – Claustrophobic Comedy, The Professional, Roaring Tragedy, Larry Thompson - Tragedy of a Youth and The Five-Star Dumpster. Kovačević wrote film scripts for Beasts (1976, directed by Ž. Nikolić), Special Treatment (1978, directed by G. Paskaljević), Who’s That Singing Over There? (1980, directed by S. Šijan), The Marathon Family (1981, directed by S. Šijan), Balkan Spy (1984, directed by D. Kovačević, B. Nikolić), The Collective Centre (1990, directed by G. Marković), The Underground (1995, directed by E. Kusturica) and Roaring Tragedy (1995, directed by G. Marković).  Dušan Kovačević’s plays have been performed throughout Eastern and Western Europe, Great Britain, USA and Canada. More than 2000 performances of his plays have been given in professional theatres in Belgrade. His plays have been translated into Czech, Slovakian, Russian, Polish, Bulgarian, Slovenian, German, Macedonian, Italian, Swedish, Finnish, Chinese, Greek, French, English, Hungarian and Rumanian. Dušan Kovačević won numerous professional, theatre and film awards nationally, some of the awards are the four Sterija Awards and the Sterija Award of the City of Vršac for Best Comedy, two Branko Ćopić Awards, Joakim Vujić Award, Miloš Crnjanski Award, Marin Držić Award, October Award of the City of Belgrade, two Golden Arena Awards, Vjekoslav Afrić Award, Stjepan Mitrov Ljubiša Award, Theatre City Budva Award, etc. Kovačević received numerous international awards, Best Script Award at the Festival in Montreal (for Balkan Spy film), Chaplin Award in Vevey (for Who’s That Singing Over There?), First Prize at the Cannes Television Drama Festival, Palme d’or of the Cannes film festival in 1995 (for The Underground), Festival of Montreal Award (for Roaring Tragedy), as well as awards at film festivals in Valencia, Marseilles, Vienna and several awards in Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland. In October 2000, Dušan Kovačević has been elected a corresponding member of Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts.

Tanja graduated in Theatre and Radio Directing at the Faculty of Dramatic Arts in Belgrade, from the class of Professor Dejan Mijač. THEATRE PRODUCTIONS:
Lovely Rita by T. Brash – SKC
Miss Julie by A. Strindberg – Atelje 212
The Hilarious Tragedy, D. Kovačević – National Theatre “Sterija“ Vršac
Lolita by V. Nabokov – Bitef Theatre
George Washington’s Loves by M. Gavran – Atelje 212
Autumn Sonata by I. Bergman – National Theatre in Belgrade
Talula by J. Strein – BELEF
The Man of Coincidences by J. Reza – National Theatre in Belgrade
Collected Stories by D. Margulies – Atelje 212
Ear, Throat, Knife by V. Rudan  – Atelje 212
Dead Ears by O. Bogayev – National Theatre in Sombor...
Terrace, J. Hristić – Yugoslav Drama Theatre
Icy Firefly, V. Radoman – Madlenianum
Oxygen, I. Viripaev – BELEF / Yugoslav Drama Theatre
The Judge, V. Moberg – National Theatre in Belgrade
Love Letter, F. Arrabal – BITEF / Cervantes
Hitler and Hitler, K. Kostjenko – Atelje 212
Sexual Neuroses of Our Parents, L. Berfus – National Theatre in Belgrade
Fireflies, T. Štivičić – Atelje 212
Wait for me in the sky, my love, F. Arabal – Madlenianum
The Possessed, after F. M. Dostoyevsky’s novel – National Theatre in Belgrade
Dabogda te majka rodila, V. Rudan – CNT Ivan pl. Zajc, Rijeka / Croatian Cultural Centre at Sušak (Croatia)
Mrs. Cabinet Minister’s Wife, B. Nušić – “Boško Buha” Theatre, Evening Stage
Our Sons, Vojislav Jovanović Marambo – National Theatre in Belgrade
Leni (about Leni Riefenstahl), V. Schulczová, R. Olekšák – Bitef Theatre
Ivanov, A. P. Chekov  – National Theatre in Belgrade
Illusions, I. Viripaev - CI Vuk Karadžić
The Sleeping Beauty, M. Depolo - Boško Buha Theatre
The Hollow Stone, N. Kolada - CI Vuk Karadžić
Lolita, novel by V. Nabokov (with Biljana Maksić)
The Devil Was Hot, stories by Charles Bukowski
Dead Souls, novel by N. V. Gogol (directed by Dejan Mijač)
The Possessed, a novel by F. M. Dostoyevsky
Dabogda te majka rodila, novel by V. Rudan
She has also directed a number of radio dramas after her own pieces and dramatisations.
She is the author of two books of poetry Mystery of a Happy Contrabass and From the Lives of Birds. 



Premiere performance

Premiere 1 october 2018

„Raša Plaović“ Stage

Stage Director Tatjana Mandić Rigonat
Dramaturge Tatjana Mandić Rigonat
Composer Irena Popović Dragović
Set Designer Branko Hojnik
Costume Designer Ivana Vasić
Language Editor Dr Ljiljana Mrkić Popović
Stage Movement Anđelija Todorović
Movie editor Jelena Tvrdišić
Cameraman Dejan Stojanović
Executive Producer Vuk Miletić
Producer Nemanja Konstantinović


Ilija Čvorović Ljubomir Bandović
Danica Čvorović Nela Mihailović
Đura, Ilija’s twin sister Dušanka Stojanović Glid
Sonja Čvorović Katarina Marković
Subtenant Milutin Milošević
Spokesman Vanja Milačić

Musicians: Vladimir Gurbaj, clarinet; Elio Rigonat, guitar; Ivan Mirković, accordion; Relja Derbogosijan, drummer
Movie characters: Boris Komnenić, Branko Vidaković, Vjera Mujović, Olja Bećković, Aleksandra Kolarov, Dunja Kostić, Nemanja Konstantinović
REFUGE song from the collection of the Regatta of Paperboats by Marko Tomaš
CIA-BIA song lyrics: Tatjana Mandić Rigonat

Producer in training Dijana Todorović
Stage Manager Sanja Ugrinić Mimica
Prompters Danica Stevanović i Anja Gavrilović
Assistant Set Designer Dunja Kostić
Assistant Costume Designer Andrea Samardžić
Light Operater Miodrag Milivojević
Make-Up Marko Dukić
Stage Crew Chief Zoran Mirić
Sound Operater Roko Mimica