Dane Zajc is considered a poet who articulated a whole range of human feelings in his metaphorical language. Also, some of his plays allude to concrete political reality transformed by his own experience. His poetic creativity delved into the depths of human existential perception of the world, including the dark areas of life, allowing him to explore in his own way also the ideas of philosophical existentialism and to intertwine them with themes of love and quest, resulting in warmth and fervour, especially in the most unexpected places. His plays remain a significant, in fact, a key part of modern Slovenian poetic drama and a unique phenomenon in an international context too.
Produced by the Oder 57 company (Stage 57) The River Children was staged only once, in 1962, at the Križanke venue in Ljubljana. It was directed by the playwright and literary theorist Taras Kermauner who called the production an »inner oratorio« and suggested as many expressive possibilities to the spoken word as possible. In 1992, the play was revived in a radio adaptation by Igor Likar.
The River Children tells a love story of a couple who is expelled from their perfect fusion by the existential circumstances of the search for inner fulfilment suprassing the emotion of love. It seems that despite its central intimate core, powered by Zajc’s cycle of poems Two (Dva), the play is not a play on love only, as it also addresses other existential issues, history and civilization, since River and Dan cannot maintain inner freedom in the given conditions of their living environment. At the same time, the play is an in-depth exploration of the value of man in view of its finality. »There is no salvation for man anywhere,« is a verse that resonates long after reading. This dark understanding is repeated twice in the play. As Zajc put it in the interview You need innocence to write poems, »when I wrote this verse, I had in mind the mortality that ends every single undertaking of ours. Today, I believe it is a good thing that our lives are finite. Mortality assures us a return to where we come from; by mortality we are connected to what we call cosmos and eternity.«
In The River Children, his first play, Zajc combines his metaphorical world with dramatic language in the most vividly pure and structurally harmonious way. It represents, alongside A Unicorn by Gregor Strniša, a unique breaking point with Slovenian playwriting which often included poetry and intertwined it with lyricism several times, at least since Cankar’s Fair Vida, but they introduced a completely new and inimitable approach to dramatic poetry. It is precisely the lyrical character of Zajc’s playwriting that makes it so challenging to be staged. Thus, it provides an excellent starting point to be presented in the form of audio play.
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