Alcohol. It’s hard to imagine a Slovak play without it. If at some point all of the characters aren’t roaring drunk, barely able to speak or move, you might wonder if the director has messed up.

You see couples yell at each other. You see some drunk with a balance problem, who will blame his heavy drinking on someone else. You may see a woman cheat on her fiancee. The sex is always kept safely out the audience’s view by the way, this is a prudish country.

If you’re lucky none of the male characters will end up in female clothes, but unfortunately the brilliance of the show usually hinges on some transvestite act. The more unwilling the ‘victim’ is to wear female clothes, the louder the audience laughs.

Apparently, women are considered to be less than men, and a man degraded into behaving like a woman is somehow very funny.

If drunks, mad wives yelling at their husbands for drinking, but ALWAYS ending up diving into a big bucket of alcohol themselves and the obligatory transvestite act can’t make you laugh – you snobbish weirdo – then perhaps it’s better to stay at home.

Except, if you enjoy observing the audiences here in Slovakia.

They are so much better dressed than people in Belgium. The women are elegant and have legs up to their armpits. The men walk like peacocks that have been given an injection that freezes most of their muscles and joints.

The break during a play is an excellent moment to chat up women. They are meticulously clothed and are dying to get attention, dying for some witty conversation.

The men they’re with are often reduced to securing drinks for them.

The play itself can’t be discussed for, well, obvious reasons. There’s no big philosophical theme, it’s just booze, marital grievances and an occasional suicide near the end. One can never get enough of stories that end with a surprising, shocking suicide, right?

The characters are never so developed that you would give a damn about their fate.

Yet the Slovak audience can’t get enough. They all laugh when the drunk collapses and someone almost steps on him. There’s some remark about thieving gypsies. Haha. And some sweet, shy angel of a young woman suddenly grabs for a bottle of liquor as well and starts swearing. O haha some more. How hilarious is the saintly devout girl who turns into a devillish boozing cursing hellcat for one night.

Of course, the audience would like to do just that. Throw off the straightjacket, reach for a bottle, and yell everything they would love to scream in everybody’s ear. They don’t, so they laugh.

At the end comes the applause that has to go on longer than the play deserves, because the audience wants to have something to do, they want to be a good audience. And maybe if they give a standing ovation they can convince themselves that they’ve just seen a masterpiece, that their evening was memorable.

I hear one Slovak lady say: ‘It’s a pity they wasted the actors’ talent on this pitifully empty plot’

To go the theatre is not so much about the play you get to see. 80 percent is about the ritual, about having an excuse to dress up, to look important, to be cultured, civilized, to feel like you are somebody, a member of the high society, because you get to park your ass in a theatre seat.

The play with its drunk characters and its very lame debauchery (you never get to see a real raging orgy, there’s never any element of real shock) does nothing to lift anyone up.

Its only effect is to sanctify the consumption of alcohol, and to let everyone know that marriage sucks, but that there is not alternative, marriage is crap, but it’s the best you can get.

That’s a Slovak play.

Its message is, life sucks, don’t bother trying to change anything, just uncork a bottle of slivovica and make fun of everyone’s misery.

PS

A guy ending up in women’s clothing is also the most important ingredient of most plays in Flanders. It’s not all that different in Flanders, but Slovak audiences can be a feast for the eyes, which is really not the case in Flanders, we are refreshingly careless about clothes, compared to our Eastern European brothers and sisters.