‘On The Royal Road’ by Elfriede Jelinek

— Melissa Mesku

Wind and fog are his allies. One can’t see anything. We’re blown away by the new wind, like his speech. Or maybe everything gets blown off before he can blow it all up.

Nobel laureate Elfriede Jelinek’s ‘On the Royal Road: The Burgher King,’ is a play about President Trump. Essentially a long, dense monologue, the play is full of wordsmithery and sentence-level brilliance, interspersed with inarticulate dissipation. At first, everybody seemed to be his opponent. That was our fault, our delusion, to think we were ‘all of us.’ Wherever they all are, there always are still more of them all. And we are not ‘all of us.’ And it is not all over with us. Every one of us rejects him. Everyone around us—that is, those I know—thinks he’s able to overpower the power that’s coming now and will be coming or is coming straight away from him, well—where else? A difficult text, to be sure: bits of it dazzle with crystalline sense, and then are dropped; shattered shards reappear anew again and again.

Presented in the U.S. this week by the Pen America World Voices Festival, this one-woman play was performed by the inimitable actress Maša Dakić. The same material presented by a lesser voice would likely have fallen flat; Dakić’s expressive range and careful articulation carried the play and imparted to it the gravitas one would hope for in the works of a Nobel laureate. When asked about her approach to Jelinek’s play, Dakić said, I don’t know what she wants. In my opinion she’s just a genius, so I don’t know exactly—I’m just trying to kind of instinctively feel where she would go. While we may never know what Jelinek intended (she’s notoriously reclusive), this abstruse work was beautifully transformed by Dakić’s instinct and talent. A recording of the performance was made available yesterday thanks to theater platform HowlRound.