The Chestnut Crown

A Play by Evald Flisar

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Synopsis from Collected Plays, I (Texture Press, 2006)

Janek, a young Gypsy law student, unexpectedly abandons his studies and returns to his native Central European village to cut down an ancient chestnut tree, revered by the surrounding villagers as sacred. He pins together enough chestnut leaves to make a wreath, a "chestnut crown," which, in combination with other ancient Gypsy rituals, should kill the "worms" in his head and release him from the paralyzing bonds of the past. The crown is then found on the head of Aloys Weiner, a local eccentric, who has been stabbed to death with a bread knife. Suspicion falls on Janek, and the play proceeds to its resolution through a series of flashbacks during the interrogations by a local inspector (examining magistrate), who is determined to establish the "one and only" truth, for "the world without truth would be immeasurably sad."

As the background of the supposed murder gradually unfolds, we learn that Janek is having sexual problems with his girlfriend Selena, and that these problems stem from the incestuous relationship with his mother, of which he is unable to free himself. This primeval bond, in the author's treatment poetic rather than perverse, is the main cause of Janek's failure to find a place for himself in the wider society. As a prisoner of a double dilemma – the son seeing his mother as a woman, the lover seeing his partner as a mother – he is forced into a never-ending cycle of escapes and returns, in the end finding refuge in ancestral ritualistic magic. But memory, represented by the Gypsy demon Melalo, is a hermaphrodite, copulating with itself and producing demons by the dozen. The only solution would be a removal of the womb to which he is tied by an unsevered umbilical cord.

In a symbolic sense this happens when Janek learns that Weiner, too, was having a relationship with his mother, and that she is carrying his child. Unable to face this, he convinces Weiner that Aranka had a hysterectomy shortly after his birth, and that her story about a child is a lie. Weiner, whose attempts to reproduce have been his life-long obsession, feels robbed of the last chance and, on the spur of the moment, commits suicide. Learning that his mother is indeed carrying Weiner's child, Janek realizes two things: that he is finally free of his bond, and that in his newly found freedom he has nowhere to go – except into another bondage, which he achieves by "admitting" that it was he who killed Weiner.

And so "truth" wins the day, Inspector leaves satisfied, while the society from which Janek had been running back to his atavistic roots, is revealed as a contractual framework of "truths" beneficial to those with the power to shape reality.