Banner photo for the post

Theatre performance “The Legionaries” (Tiit Aleksejev).
Director: Madis Kalmet.
Set Desginer: Mats Õun.
Premiered on 6 of Aprill 2013 at Rakver Theatre.

Tiit Aleksejev’s play “The Legionaries” is the story of Estonian soldiers who died in the Battle of Porkuni in September 1944, of failed dreams, lives that ended too early – the story of Estonia, war and life after war. A moonscape has been created on the stage of Rakvere Theatre’s small stage, it is filled with piles of mud, it is a grimy and barren mass grave. At the beginning of the play we find out that private residences are being erected on the same site years from now. We see three German legionaries taking turns talking about war and their destinies, and notice Suur-Einar (Big Einar) passing by and stopping to listen attentively. Through his and Maia Karu’s stories we become a part of the worry that unites these two characters – family members who will not bury their brother and son without the official death certificate.
The first German legionary is played by Erni Kask, a Rakvere Theatre actor and foreign relations manager. He is a cynical and nihilistic theology student. He is sharp and his angry arrogance is reflected in his body language, facial expressions and tone of voice. As an actor I see Erni Kask as exceptionally humorous and expressive, and his rich presence in this play, his masterful rendition as a callous character in “The Legionaries” just adds to my view of him.
The second legionary is played by Margus Grosnõi, from Erni Kask’s course at TU Viljandi Culture Academy. Writing this review I don’t remember a single line he said, just two gunshots and short dialogs in German and Russian. How is it possible? The American writer Maya Angelou has said that people forget what they are told or how they are treated, but never how they are made to feel. Margus Grosnõi’s second legionaries instilled faith in me. Faith that everything has a reason and there is something to hang on to in a torturous darkness. His gaze was not faded, he was much brighter than the other characters.
It is only in the 7th scene that I finally understand the third legionary who is portrayed by Mihkel Kabel, currently working as a freelancer and a graduate of Estonian Music and Theatre Academy. He is a quiet soldier who keeps to himself; he is slow and at times intentionally comical. But what seems comical at first becomes gloomy melancholy in the longer monologue. With his initial short dialogues Kabel seems to be aloof, lost in his own thoughts, but here his character comes alive. He stares at the audience, his eyes filled with a glint of yearning, but also hopelessness and an inability to change the current situation. His stories of his childhood, his father and the German architecture book he got as a gift are memorable. Terje Pennie as Maia Karu, a caring mother and a good, tolerant wife, is equally memorable. A mother whose description of the first and last time she raise her voice at her husband and her agony, hidden away inside, make the audience freeze for these passing moments.
Suur-Einar, on the other hand – portrayed by the imposingly experienced Rakvere Theatre actor Tarvo Sõmer – turned the intensity down. There was one scene particularly that I had a problem with. It seems unnatural how the legionaries gather around Suur-Einar when he first sits down in front of them and they stare at him. At that moment these three broken souls remind me of the Hattifatteners from the Moomin books and I try not to giggle because of the gravity of the story. Suur-Einar presents his apathetic, restless and ragged postwar life. He reflects his present age convincingly, but it is almost impossible to focus on his monologues, which don’t seem to have a start or an end.
At the end of the first act, the big and noble Moon brings reconciliation above the mass grave. Porkuni and Narva are not far from Tartu. Some of the descriptions heard in the play bring the places even closer to the viewers. The third legionary’s remark catches my attention when he says that cities can die like people. I start to think that Narva could be something altogether different today – an epitome of fine architecture, a historical landmark, which can still be seen in the model stored at Narva Town Hall. The stories heard in the intermission touch on the lives of grandchildren, impressions about the cake and other everyday life aspects. A woman tells her friends about how she met foreign soldiers, but that’s all.
Although not for the men on stage, life goes on. My life also goes on. I am not staying, because I fail to understand why these monologues, why this moonscape, why here and why now? The production consists of little movement and long tractates which I have been trying to focus on. I become increasingly honest as a reviewer. It is the result of a long dilemma to ignore a social norm, the bourgeois citizen in myself who would have stayed quietly until the end of the performance solely out of respect for theatre and history. But the aspect that would let me forget that I am present at the theatre – something which would whisk me away into the story and emotions – is lacking in the production. I want to read the play in order to understand what was missing.
They say you have to remember history in order to valorize the present day. I agree and I find that in the world of the 21st century that is increasingly melting together into one big mass you must know and tell namely YOUR story. This is how we know, want and are able to settle down here. I am much more captivated reading the play than I was able and willing watching it. Instead of observing a forced choreography on stage I move through the text like knife through butter. It is an enthralling story, which only opened itself up on stage partially and in a forced manner.
Suur-Einar: “And my younger kid once told me: don’t look for the pain. Don’t rip it out into the open. The dead should be let free like they expect from us. Maybe then you will find what you are so passionately looking for. (With defiance) But how does he know what I am looking for!… Even I don’t know! (Beat. Resigned.) And yet, maybe he does know, after all, he is God’s servant and not me… I’m just a land improver. (Standing for a while. The light fades).”
(Aleksejev 2010, lk 49)
The conclusion of “The Legionaries” ties all the characters and stories together – history makes dreams failed in the war come true and carries the postwar generation off with it.
Suur-Einar: “I know that historians like to poke around in old stuff (…) But why won’t this war let me go on with my life?… Why do I have to think about it all the time… The first generation that hasn’t seen war with their own eyes, I shouldn’t care about it at all… but I do… for some reason. Who’s to know what it means. It is like a disease that hasn’t been properly treated and shows its head at the end of a person’s life.” (Aleksejev 2010, p 47)
Aleksejev, T. (2010) Leegionärid. Tallinn: Loomingu Raamatukogu