ENDANGERED SPECIES (OHROŽENÉ DRUHY)
4 M, 2 F
The play from contemporary Prague shows the world of advertisement and business of pharmaceutical giant companies.
The world-wide renowned photographer and past exile Jiří Čejka, known as Jeremy (60),
is lately out of luck. Nevertheless, he still hesitates before accepting a job offer from the newly established advertisement agency Pitch Productions to work with them on a scenario for a campaign for the multinational pharmaceutical company Delete. In fact, the offer is at first refused by his wife Jana who points out that such a job would be against Jeremy’s principles. Nevertheless, the efforts to find better care for Jana’s father who suffers from Alzheimer make Jeremy accept the lucrative offer.
The screenplay for the spot presented by the very young copywriter Pavel and the producer, forty years old Eva, captivates Jeremy despite his earlier warnings this kind of work wouldn’t be a “love affair” for him. His enthusiasm is dampened by the explanation of the two about workings of advertisement tenders. The tender result obviously depends on the decision by the company’s director of marketing. Jeremy “by chance|” finds out that the man is his old friend and a classmate from the time of his high school studies, a homosexual Jan Šustr. He seeks him out in a transvestite cabaret of which Jan is a sort of sponsor (he is also sponsoring a newt in the Prague ZOO) as Jan’s boyfriend Hanka appears there dressed as the famous 1960s singer (and later dissident) Marta Kubišová. But the relationship of the two is going through a crisis and Jeremy is Jan’s companion during a journey of a self-destructing drinking night.
Jeremy wins the campaign order for the Pitch Productions. At a dinner, organized for Jan, he introduces his classmate to Jana who shows specialist interest in the Cogitamin medicine being promoted. Jan shows his sponsoring tendencies again and organizes an excursion for the erstwhile chemistry specialist Jana to the company’s research department. On the other hand, he surprises Jeremy by claiming he did not vote for the script by Pitch Productions that in fact upsets him and it was his colleagues who decided on the commission. He’s trying to make Jeremy terminate the Pitch Productions collaboration and to work directly for him. Jeremy refuses, but to no avail: Pitch Productions loose the commission anyway and Jeremy refuses the work out of solidarity with his young colleagues.
Moreover, Jana tells him that the drug promoted is suspect for dangerous side-effects that could lead to outbreak of some brain illnesses. Jeremy does his own research and tells its results to Jan who keeps referring him to successful tests. Despite Jana’s protests (in the meantime, she got a position with Delete Company), Jeremy starts fighting the corporation; hesitantly at first but after being encouraged by Pavel, the whole issue gets on the level of a professional campaign. They organize a visual action that gets extraordinary attentions from the media: a giant paper pill blocks the D1 Motorway, the Czech transport “artery”. The battle centred on Cogitamin peaks with press conferences. Delete Company offers the journalists substantial catering, but Jeremy’s conference has a stronger effect as Pavel brings Jana’s father in a wheelchair to demonstrate possible consequences of the medicine. This misuse of a member of her family makes Jana decide to leave Jeremy.
Jan’s former friend Hanka also joined Jeremy’s campaign; he gives an interview to a popular weekly that gets Jan in trouble. It becomes clear that Jan invested his own money into future production of the medicine. Jeremy is not ready to take this into account. When he gets the news of the death of the newt he sponsored, Jan asks for the body to organize the animals private cremation but gets burned during it. Was it an accident? Before that, Jan unsuccessfully tried to woe physically Jana who’d admitted she’d fall in love with him.
Jeremy’s campaign wins overwhelmingly: Cogitamin is taken off free sale. Although Jana admits Jeremy was right, she refuses to return to him. Nevertheless, they go together to see Jan who’s recovering from his personal crash – not only has he lost big amounts of money but also he was sacked from Delete.
Thanks to the success of his campaign, Jeremy is offered a high position at another multinational pharmaceutical company; this time he doesn’t hesitate to accept it. A year later, Jana, Jeremy and Jan meet before Jana’s father’s funeral; he finished his days in a sanatorium in Austria thanks to Jan’s money. Jana and Jeremy agree to have a problemless divorce.
The latest play by the most successful contemporary Czech playwright had its world premiere on November 24, 2011 at the Nová Scéna stage of the Prague National Theatre.
Once again, Zelenka’s play is treating the existential theme with enough originality. (…) Zelenka wrote one of the most ambivalent texts that emerged in the last time, and it is well able to irritate quite forcefully. His play opens, in general quite “seriously”, a range of problems linked to the complexity of today’s existence while questioning these issues, playing with them and putting them in an ironic perspective and context. The author chooses the absurd environment of an advertisement agency as a condensed parallel to the contemporary world in general. (…)
Although there is no shortage in the play of mad people, alcoholics, drug addicts and old people “with Alzheimer”, Zelenka claims we all are endangered species nowadays. And one doesn’t feel here any undercurrent of a cheap Leftist rhetoric. We longed for freedom, and we’d got it. But the new freedom brought with it some new addictions and habits.
Jana Machalická, Lidové noviny, November 28, 11
Zelenka’s witty dialogues, cleverly written and full of paradoxical punch lines, are aimed intentionally and accurately at the laughing audience’s diaphragms.
Marie Reslová, Hospodářské noviny, November 30.11.11
In this way, Zelenka’s texts in general and Endangered Species in particular, with their playful approach to the treatment of reality, remind of works by some authors writing in English, mainly Tom Stoppard and Martin McDonagh. But the specific humour is Czech and original. (…) The title of Endangered Species, in a typically Zelenka’s way, offers plenty of different interpretations and, as the story progresses, we find more and more of them. Whether the talk is of a rare newt species of the fire salamander whom Jan sponsors in Prague ZOO and whose death is almost fatal for him, or of the humankind in various incarnations – such as the dying off of the individuals who still had not lost their natural instincts and feelings, of the whole middle class, of the erstwhile wide band of the grey zone between successful conformists and losers by conviction and, in global perspective, of the whole of the mankind.
Jana Soprová, Český rozhlas 3 – Vltava, November 28, 2011
Endangered Species is a multilayered play that successfully explores the depths despite an agreeable outer façade. Zelenka’s text is exceedingly well thought through. It is full of references and allusions not only on the story level but also in using music. Even the lines that are seemingly banal often implicate many other meanings. Not to speak of humour, often escalating into absurdity.
Zuzana Drtilová, MFDnes, November 28, 2011