Sailing on a Boat For Dolls

Serbian author Milena Markovic takes us into a gloomy world of fairytales, and the infinite search for atonement

Jasna Đuričić as Little Sister and Milica Grujičić as Older Sister in one of the opening scenes | Photo:

It all starts with the fear of darkness, and with our search for the genuine light, the kind of inner light that can only be found in a person’s soul. We sometimes lose that sense, reality slips away and all we want to do is run. But you can never run away, not really.

Boat for Dolls, a new work by Serbian playwright Milena Markovic, is a story of someone who fails to find that light, and whose commitment to liberating herself leads to nothing more than a death out of desperation. Trapped by a society that has no respect for women’s creativity – where women are little more than objects – the protagonist, unable to cope with relationships out of a naivety about men’s good will, becomes a universal representation of the perennial struggle undergone by women artists.

One tragedy, seven lives: This drama, which played for a single performance at Theater Akzent in March, consists of a prologue and seven scenes, adapted from traditional fairytales and interconnected by instrumental or vocal tones that correspond to the development of the plot. The protagonist’s character, as well as the name, changes with the spirit of a particular fairytale, but one uniting principle remains – a struggle to realize the purpose of her life outside of the framework of living for and according to others’ wishes and expectations.

From the Little Sister, a role which reveals the most about her teenage adventurous spirit, over Snow White’s first encounter of sex, love, shame and drugs, and Goldilocks’ disappointment in marriage and happiness, the once-famous artist reaches her final stages as an alcohol-addicted witch visited by Hansel and Gretel.

“What?! What did you expect to see?” a roar of a response to the ‘children’s’ astonishment at the drunkenness and mishandling of their favorite artist.

“You thought an artist’s shit smells nicer than that of regular people?!” she tries to almost ridicule them, stumping in despair all over the stage. A moment of silence, and she continues quietly, talking about her son sleeping upstairs – the baby whom she abandoned as Goldilocks and now hallucinates she will still be able to meet. It is these powerful changes from a low- to high-pitch voice (with no use of microphones) that echoed through the cozy intérieur of the cavernous, post-war theater in Vienna’s 4th District, accentuating the actor’s ability to convey the intensity of her tragedy, at first sarcastically, then more honestly.

Boat for Dolls is a three-level drama. Early scenes in which the protagonist lives through her first experiences, and driven by her adventurous spirit, learns about sex, love, drugs, despair, human shamelessness and more, take place at the bottom, so as to suggest the still developing character of the main actress.

The interpretation of Andersen’s Thumbelina, in which the student Thumbelina discusses her artwork with a professor, the Frog, is staged on the staircase as to suggest the protagonist’s possible rise to the top. Thumbelina’s search for a prince is over, but not merely successful. She owns the throne (the third level as the top of her success), but her actions are again being dictated by the prince’s father. Finally, last two scenes are brought to the base level again as to suggest the artist’s ruined life, as well as lack of inspiration and creativity.

“A free person is someone who, despite everything, follows his inner voice. I never accomplished that,” she says.

Her tragedy is s failed search for a boat. This attachment to a boat as a symbol of salvation, death and re-birth, reveals the character’s deepest uncertainties and the source of her anxiety. Her life was riddled with unmet expectations and failed dreams, partly rested in her childhood experiences and strong attachment to her father. Namely, in the first fairytale, Alice (as reference to Alice in the Wonderland) notices that her father has started looking at her ‘differently.’ When she tries to share this with her older sister, she is dismissed as immature and silly.

Her anxiety grows, because Alice doesn’t want to face the reality of her father being nothing more than a pedophile. She leaves home and never comes back, but the father figure remains there until the very end. He used to make small boats for her dolls, and all her life, she seeks just such a boat for herself. A safe harbor and calm sea.

Maybe, but only in another life.

Now, the protagonist is in the center, and the lights are centered on other six actors. Each reveals something about her life. The closing monologue follows, from which we learn about the centrality of the father figure and his influence on her further life:

“Daddy, make me a boat. Daddy, please sail with me on that boat. Daddy, take care of me on the boat. Daddy, this is not my life, this didn’t happen to me. Daddy, I want to be reborn, free.”

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