Based on a trilogy by Ivan Mrak 1906 –1986
A family saga of social and human ruin as a parable of the inherent futility of worldly possession
28 March 2023
“You were born to protest and to oppose […] and suddenly you find yourself facing a fact that does not need your defiance and your revolts. You have got used to trembling before something invisible, before power, and suddenly you have nothing to tremble before anymore. It is as if the meaning of your life disappeared alongside with power. […] And you, who dislike and cannot understand some false hierarchy, and, in your simplicity, you see things as they are, who have not and do not want to realize that life is built on interests only, you will step aside, and you will die like a dog. Stand aside, you who refuse to understand the law of the majority!”
Ivan Mrak: A page torn from the diary of a fifteen-year-old
Ivan Mrak (1906-1986) was a writer, actor and director whose plays are considered neglected, rarely performed and unjustifiably marginalised, even though Mrak himself consciously persevered in his enforced “marginality” throughout his life. For example, it was in 1970 that any of his plays was last staged at the SNT Drama Ljubljana (Mirabeau).
During his lifetime, Mrak’s theatre never staged The Romans trilogy in its entirety. The Old Roman premiered in 1939, The Sons of the Old Roman in 1941. Shortly afterwards (in 1942) Mrak was banned from any theatre-related activity for not joining the fascist trade union. The final part of the trilogy, The Annihilation of the Romans, completed in 1945 (published as late as in 1974), has never been staged at all.
The so-called The Romans trilogy is the most autobiographical of all Mrak’s play cycles, as it uses some facts from the author’s youth, and in particular the fate of Mra’’s father’s inn, The Old Roman’s Inn (later renamed as The Mrak’s Inn, today the Hotel Mrak), to tell the fictional saga of the “brutal lineage of the Romans” from 1919, i.e. the end of the First World War, to 1945, the end of the Second World War. The first part of the trilogy deals with the issue of succession against the backdrop of the major social upheaval following the First World War, the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the establishment of the Kingdom of the SHS (followed by the Kingdom of Yugoslavia), and the subsequent dissolution of the apparently “sophisticated” petty-bourgeois world of the Old Roman, crushed by the “new era of barbarism” of industrial capitalism, “when one thinks and works and produces for the majority”, and when “the age of collective and mechanical enterprise” had become completely dominated by the “frenzied pursuit of money and pleasure” of post-war profiteers and racketeers. The second part, The Sons of the Old Roman, focuses on the interwar, eminently Slovenian struggle for power after the death of the “ruler”, i.e., the endless family quarrels over inheritance and the preservation of inheritance, and constant and mutual accusations and suspicions, accompanied by indebtedness and alcoholism. The final part, The Annihilation portrays the post-war social turmoil (1945/46) following the victory over the invaders and the rise of the national liberation movement and the Communist Party, as well as the post-war recriminations and the fate of the collaborators, also indirectly alluding to the Dachau trials. Each part of the trilogy begins after the end (or beginning) of one of these historical “commotions” and concludes with the tragic death of one of the protagonists and the rise of his successor, with the crimes and debts of the father being cyclically passed down from generation to generation. This cyclical structure, reminiscent of Shakespeare’s “great mechanism of history” (Kott), where the transfer of power is brought about by the rise of a new king who kills the previous one, and so on ad infinitum, is clearly evident in The Romans. The entire trilogy, in fact, depicts a cyclical mechanism of constant transfer and loss of power, which ultimately reveals the inherent futility of any worldly possession.
The more distinctive highlights of The Mrakiad undoubtedly include also: the role of the Roman female family members and their employees, and, consequently, the fate of women during and after the war; the issue of the (in)ability to overcome the “dialectic of the executioner and the victim” (Kermauner), i.e., the apparently inherent human mechanism of self-aggrandisement (of oneself and one’s kin) and the concomitant demonisation of others; the marginalisation of certain artists who have been persistently rejected by the Slovenian culture establishment, especially if they publicly professed their long-term ambitions to produce the greatest works of science and art, or poked at the neuralgic points of national psychopathology.
Tibor Hrs Pandur
The deceased mother, Old Roman’s first wife / Intelligence officer 1
Old Roman / Police officer
Ana, Ferdi’s mother, Old Roman’s second wife / Partisan / Intelligence officer 2 / Soldier 2
Rudi, Old Roman’s son from his first marriage / Hauptman Ermann / Panj
Francelj, Old Roman’s younger son from his first marriage / Jakob Žontar, janitor
Ferdi, Old Roman’s son from his second marriage
Zofka, close relative of the Romans / Zinka
Ela, Rudi’s wife / Mrs. Ražem
Alojz Bešnar, post-war rich man
Marie Antoinette / Rozi, Bešnar’s wife
Dr. Egon Zorut, Bešnar’s personal consultant
Mara, cook / Neighbour