comedy by Branislav Nušić

About Performance

There is a traditionally furnished Serbian room. There is a stove, smoke is coming out from the stove’s pipe; there are pots, washbowls, pails; there are various chairs which do not match and a big table. It is a kind of a room in which “our people” spend most of their lives. There is a road paved with cobblestones; the road is a typical uphill Balkan street where the strong winds carry dust. It is difficult to go up and down the road. At the corner of the stage, designed by Boris Maksimović in a concise and intuitive way, deprived of any excessive details, there is a turkey-cock strutting around. Živka and others go up the road. Živka’s house is poor. The character of Živka, interpreted by Radmila Živković, is a martyr, and yet still feisty, although already at the end of her energy and nerves. Živka awaits the luck from heaven, but it doesn’t come! Her son, Raka, is injured and covered with band-aids; he is a source of great worry for his mother, as much as her husband, who is an irresolute man, a public servant who has no skill, oh wonder, to use his position for personal gain! Nušić says that the times are hard, and Živka agrees. Audience, even those who are not familiar with Nušić’s text, know the line, as if it is applicable for all periods and generations. Radmila Živković’s Živka mends her son’s trousers in deep contemplation as if she is making decisions of utmost importance. A character in Nušić’s play does not have to talk; he/she can be silent and still be hilarious! All the worries in the world are on Živka’s face. She cannot decide where to turn her attention first, and troubles come in groups. Lack of money and the impressive, dressed in black, aunt Savka, interpreted by Milka Lukić, is a difficult and suspicious person. Director Jagoš Marković and Radmila Živković as Živka have given their best in this production, which will remain and be talked about as of The Bereaved Family by Mata Milošević, Mr Dollar by Miroslav Belović, The Suspicious Person by Dejan Mijač, as well as of interpretation of the Mrs. Cabinet Minister’s Wife by Žanka Stokić, or Ljubinka Bobić. And they were successful. However, not everything in Jagoš Marković’s production was new. Jagoš Marković has skilfully played with a dream, obsession, madness of power, need and striving to go beyond one’s capability, to become a person of reputation. The contrast between reality and dream, poor life and heavenly life of a minister’s wife has been powerfully emphasized with music (editing of music, music effects and sound design was done by Vladimir Petričević). The contrast of utmost misery and glorifying music, signifies and foretells another kind of better and more important life, there is a lot of foolishness, overall powerlessness, sorrow and comic of a turkey bird singing the swan song, space of power and authority and exhaustion and disappointment. Radmila Živković will remain remembered in the role of a cabinet minister’s wife as an actress who seriously and even dramatically understood Živka’s plight and who never deprived Živka’s rise and fall from comedy of a higher order, the comedy which arises from the overall powerlessness to change things really and everlastingly inside and around her. Who would have expected this! Dara is just being herself! What should one act and play with? However, Olga Odanović didn’t think so. Her interpretation of Dara will be remembered the same way as previous “unsurpassed cabinet minister’s wives” are. Silent, over the top, crazy, then in the next moment normal, a realistic mad woman, unpredictable… the real comic abundance is shown in the character of Dara in the interpretation of Olga Odanović. The fact that Rista Todorović is a dark and silent man, instead of a chubby and talkative one, does not make much difference. Jagoš Marković made numerous relatives younger without any deeper director’s and actor’s variations and innovations. Even when one sits in a high place, one still sits on a particular part of the body. This is the practical and comically reduced dr. Ninković interpreted by Boris Komnenić. Rade Marković interprets Pera, the notary, with moving dedication. Costumes designed by Božana Jovanović undoubtedly indicate a small town spirit/soul from the Nušić’s comedy. Jagoš Marković’s production does not suffer from boring perfection, but it is powerful, dynamic, full with tragicomic energy, more or less unified with vision of the world between harsh reality and sorrowful invocations “away go my wonderful dreams…” This is a performance to talk about, to comment on and, hopefully, the one which will have a long and beautiful theatre life.  

Muharem Pervić, THE POLITIKA DAILY, Belgrade, 16 March 2004

Nušić started writing Mrs. Cabinet Minister’s Wife just before the First World War, while he was the manager of a newly formed theatre in Skopje. He wrote the first and almost finished the second act when the war broke out and stopped his work. The manuscript was lost, together with all others, when he was forced to leave Skopje. Many years later, in 1929, he remembered the unfinished comedy and started writing it again. As the playwright said, he designed the character of Živka Popović with Žanka Stokić in mind, an actress of unmistakable theatrical intuition, infinitely sincere smile and catchy laughter, with abundant imagination, an energetic woman with eruptive strength, a positive person, who was at the top of her career at the time. At the same time, Nušić claimed that he was not inspired by any real person from political life from the present or past, but whenever he needed to borrow something from such people, he did so. After only nine rehearsals directed by actor/director Vitomir Bogić, the premiere took place on 25 May 1929 and it was a remarkable success. Actually, it was a success with the audiences. However, the critics were not satisfied. They found faults in everything they could: non-inventiveness, triviality, use of cheap and vulgar jokes with the aim to gain popularity, fame, money… But the audiences did not care about their comments. They laughed and enjoyed the words of their beloved Nušić and irresistible performances of their favourite actress and other actors in supporting roles. Popularity of the play started right after the premiere and lasted until the occupation. The production has topped all records in that period: fiftieth performance happened before the first year was out, and in the course of thirteen seasons, it was performed almost 200 times. Out of which, Žanka Stokić interpreted the main role for more than 150 times. Besides her, the role was also interpreted by Jovanka Jovanović Dvorniković, it was said that her acting was superb as well, but Jovanka was overshadowed by marvellous Žanka, who set boundary for the character for her own generation and the ones that followed. Mrs. Cabinet Minister’s Wife was revived on 10 October 1945, right after the liberation, this time directed by Dragoljub Gošić. At the time, Žanka Stokić was seriously ill and confined to her house for well-known reasons, the result of injustice of destiny and the then government; her civil honour and right to act were deprived of her. Her role was acted by Nevenka Mikulic and Mileva Božnjaković (in the roles of Anka, the maid, and Živka’s daughter Dara, in the previous cast), who were also good actresses, but with no chance to reach the unprecedented success of their predecessor. The cast has remained for three years, and then something unexpected happened: former Raka, the son of Živka, actually interpreted by a petite actress Ljubinka Bobić, , the very opposite of Žanka, starts playing the main role, and does so for 70 times, until the end of the second cast of Mrs. Cabinet Minister’s Wife, which remained on the repertoire for eight years with one revival (1952). It was recorded that Mila Dimitrijević, a leading actress of the Croatian National Theatre from Zagreb, has interpreted the title role once on 17 February 1948. Belgrade did not stay long without its favourite comedy. Already in 1955, Dušan Vladisavljević takes on directing of the play. The premiere took place on 20 May 1955. This production, however, was not very successful; it lasted only for three seasons, during which 27 performances were given. Role of Živka Popović was played by Ljubinka Bobić and Dara Vukotić (Plaović). Mrs. Cabinet Minister’s Wife had yet another opening on occasion of 100th anniversary of Nušić’s birth and 75th anniversary of the presence of his dramas on stage of the National Theatre. The production was directed by Braslav Borozan and Živka’s role was played by Ljubinka Bobić. The production has reached, and according to some people, surpassed the fame of the first one. The play was performed for more than 200 times, until two months before Ljubinka’s death in 1978, always for full theatre which resounded with laughter and applauses. In the course of 30 years when the play was performed, her favourite role developed together with her and it brought the actress, audiences and colleagues a lot of joy on stage. In later years of her life, she mentioned that Nušić once predicted that she will be a successor to Žanka, which astounded her at the time, since she was very young and played very different roles. And yet, like Žanka before her, passers-by in the street referred to her as “Živka” or “The Minister’s Wife”. She played the role of the Cabinet Minister’s Wife for more than 300 times on stages in Belgrade, the country, but also in Sofia, Bucharest and Moscow. She received a significant recognition for the role, the Plaque of the National Theatre, but she said that laughter and applauses she receives from audiences were her dearest rewards. She was even sent off to her grave with the applause by thankful citizens of Belgrade. It has rarely happened that a production and a role in it should mark an epoch. In the case of “The Cabinet Minister’s Wife” it happened twice. It is no wonder that the National Theatre has produced it only once since then. Not even an expert on Nušić, Dr Milenko Misailovic, nor the great Olivera Markovic, have succeeded to surpass the myth of Žanka and the myth of Ljubinka. The production stayed on the repertoire for only two seasons, since 22nd November 1982, until June 1984 – nonetheless it was performed 50 times, but then it closed. As the new century and the new millennium came, on 10th March 2004 and after twenty years of not being present on the stage where it had its first performance and where it went into legend twice, The Cabinet Minister’s Wife returned, directed by Jagoš Marković, with Radmila Živković in the title role. During the first four months, the production competed in numerous festivals and won significant rewards: Sterija’s Pozorje (Radmila Živković won Award of the Audience for the Best Actress, 40th Pozorje Festival); Actors’ Festival “Milivoje Živanović” in Požarevac (Radmila Živković won the Award of the Jury of Professionals and the Award of the Audience for the Best Actress – Plaque “Memory of an Actor”, as well as the Award of the Jury of Professionals for the Best Actress at the Festival – statuette of Milivoje Živanović); Festival “The Days of Nušić” in Smederevo (Radmila Živković won the Award of the Audience for the Best Actress at the Festival –Branislav Nušić Plaque, while the play The Cabinet Minister’s Wife was declared the best production at the Festival and it won the statuette of Branislav Nušić). Numerous recognitions followed, from which we should single out the “Žanka Stokić” Award given to Radmila Živković, and of course, cordial applauses received on stage in the Theatre and on numerous tours in the country and abroad (Sweden, Russia, etc.). It seems that the time has come for the new, modern, Živka – The Cabinet Minister’s Wife, about whom the next generations will speak about the same way we speak about the previous two.
Jelica Stevanović


- Festival of Actors “Milivoje Živanović“ Požarevac -
RADMILA ŽIVKOVIĆ – Award of the Audience for the Best Actress of the Evening
RADMILA ŽIVKOVIĆ – Award of the Jury of Professionals for the Best Actress of the Evening (Plaque “Memory of an Actor”)
RADMILA ŽIVKOVIĆ – Award of the Jury of Professionals for the Best Actress at the Festival (statuette of Milivoje Živanović)

- Festival “The Days of Nušić” in Smederevo -
THE CABINET MINISTER’S WIFE – The Best Production at the Festival (Statuette of Branislav Nušić)
RADMILA ŽIVKOVIĆ – Award of the Audience for the Best Actress at the Festival (Branislav Nušić Plaque)  

- 49th Sterija’s Pozorje in Novi Sad -
RADMILA ŽIVKOVIĆ – Award of the Audience for the Best Actress (awarded by the Open University of Novi Sad)
RADMILA ŽIVKOVIĆ – Award of the National Theatre
OLGA ODANOVIĆ –  “Zoran’s Moustache” Award at the Festival “Days of Zoran Radmilović” in Zaječar


Premiere performance

Premiere 10th March 2004

Main Stage

Branislav Nušić

A Joke in Four Acts
Director Jagoš Marković
Dramaturge Jovan Ćirilov
Set Designer Boris Maksimović
Costume Designer Božana Jovanović
Stage Speech Author  Ljiljana Mrkić Popović, Phd, Prof.
Stage Movement Designer Marija Momirov

Premiere cast:

Živka Radmila Živković
Sima Popović Miloš Đorđević
Dara Olga Odanović
Raka Marko Janjić / Mihailo Lađevac
Čeda Urošević Aleksandar Srećković
Dr Ninković Boris Komnenić
Uncle Vasa Predrag Tasovac / Branko Vidaković
Aunt Savka Milka Lukic
Aunt Daca Anđelka Milivojević Tadić / Ksenija Jovanović
Pera Kalеnić Duško Premović
Panta Radovan Miljanić
Soja  Dušanka Stojanović Glid / Bojana Bambić
Uncle Jakov Branko Jerinić
Sava Miшić Darko Tomović  
Pera the Notary Rade Marković / Mihajlo Lađevac
A Clever Child Mihajlo Lađevac / Ivan Nikolić
Anka Dejana Miladinović  
Teacher Sonja Knežević
Policeman Ivan Nikolić
Nicaragua  Maiga Hamadahamane  

Extras: Božidar Katić, Srđan Miletić, Zoran Trifunović, Milan Bošković, Miloš Dmitrović, Nenad Andrić, Aleksandar Vukić, Danijel Mijajlović, Jovo Bosnić, Branko Tomić
Editing of music, sound effects and sound design by Vladimir Petričević
Organiser Nemanja Stojanović
Assistant to the Director Marko Manojlović
Assistant Director Marko Kesić
Assistant Costume Designer Olga Mrđenović
Stage Manager Vlastimir Živanović
Prompter Dušanka Vukić
Lighting Master Nait Ilijazi
Sound Master Perica Đurković
Make-Up Master Dragoljub Jeremić
Stage Master Zoran Mirić
Sculpting  Stanimir Pavlović
Painting Miroslav Nikolić, Svetislav Živković, Srđan Pušeljić, Ilija Krković
Set decor Dejan Janković
Pyrotechnic effects Miroslav Petrović
Lighting Mixer Milan Kolarević
Wardrobe Supervisors Vera Mekić, Jugoslav Purić, Tomislav Vladisavljević
Costumes were made in the National Theatre’s workshops under supervision of costume makers Ljiljana Sekulić and Boža Zarić and  footwear maker Milan Rakić.
Sets were made in the National Theatre’s workshops under supervision of Željko Rudić.