In the dark hall of the House of Culture from a village near the Ukrainian border, a few hundreds of spectators are breathlessly waiting for the curtain to be drawn. Armed with Fanta and sunflower seeds, they keep on beckoning each other -when will the comedy begin. It’s the first time a professional troupe of actors visits them, since the independence. Last visit, the play’s protagonists – masters Victor Ciutac and Veniamin Apostol – were still alive.

It’s saturday. The Copceac village from the Stefan Voda district is buzzing. They were trumpeting all over the hamlet about the Chisinau artists which were going to come and give a presentation at the Club, newly – The House of Culture, for a whole week. That’s why the cattle have been given food earlier, the birds have gone early to bed, and the store shutters where shut long before the dawn.

“Eh, we’ve thrown away our hoes and shovels since about two o’clock to have time to get ready for the spectacle”, says a man with his fur cap stuffed up his head, with a gallant air, waiting, near the road, for his wife.

At the House of Culture the door is wide open. Directress Mila asks her deputy, a plump man, wearing a leather jacket and an english cap, to take an electric fire to the spectacle hall, “so that the actors would be warm when they’ll be acting”.

The woman surely has 50, but the beautiful and fine features of her sunburnt face and her haircut, à la Marlin Monroe, make her look younger. Talks a lot, but her words are always of high significance, and spins around like a whirligig: prepares the tickets and the scissors, straightens the curtain on one window, puts a bucket of water and a cup on the sill, sticks the hand-made flyer which announces the spectacle – “Testamentul” by Gheorghe Urschi.

“Out of all the 300 tickets, Mr.Director from SRL Focarul-Agro bought 100 for his employees. Therefore, i’m not afraid that I won’t be able to sell the other ones. Me and the mayor have announced the people. The news spread from house to house – the artists from Chisinau are coming”, tells Mila, thinning her lips in an acting manner.

Remembers that, last time when an actor troupe came to Copceac, masters Veniamin Apostol and Victor Ciutac were still alive, which have also played on the improvised stage.

-Came with the show…., I don’t remember what it was called. Two trailers were united on the lowland, that’s how it was done a long time ago. And look, after many years, the actors visit us again. Theaters should come more often to villages, should organize more concerts, because its sorrowful here in the countryside.

The building which gathers the villagers for the most important cultural events, neighbours two other local attractions – the church and the stadium. Freshly renovated, with walls of bright pumpkin colour, the interior of the House of Culture remained loyal to the glorious socialist past.

“As you can see, it has two rooms: one is the hall with 300 seats, and the other one, would you stop taking pictures of all this mess, was the village library. They moved it to the lyceum, after some padded chairs were stolen. I had to take all the blame”, remembers the directress, slamming the tickets on the table.

At 3.30 PM, after stumbling across a road which was still wet after yesterday’s evening rain, the bus with Chisinau numbers parks in front of the House of Culture. The kids on the stadium forget about the ball for a few moments. Stunned, they kept elbowing each other.

Mila meets the actors on the threshold. Examines them from head to toe, then dissapears somewhere inside. Suddenly, the afternoon quiet is broken by a few gusts of laughter. The artists, gathered in fron of the hand-made flyer which announced their arrival, kept staring at it and giggling -„Teatrul Luciafărul”. The letter i shines brighter than

Luceafarul(romanian literature reference to a very bright star) itself in the middle of the night in the eyes of the curious ones.

Mila hears the giggles of the actors, but pretends that she doesn’t understand it. From behind the table full of tickets, gesticulates airily with her hands, ” if it was only that..”.

A great panel with Mihai Eminescu – „Luciafărul poeziei noastre” hangs bumptiously behind the directress.

While the staff unloaded the stage property, the actors meet the hall, the stage and the WC whose door has to be held using your hand, if you don’t want to embarrass yourself. Cheerful, they grin and bear it.

– Xenia Sobceac (russian star) is from Copceac, right? asks a tanned, voluptuous actress while carrying a stand for a projector.

-No, the Wi-Fi password is -xeniasobceac@mail.ru, answers a colleague with glasses. Relaxed, he smokes and looks wistfully at the stand placed on the woman’s shoulder, like a grenade launcher.

The actors gather in the little room near the stage, which is already full of stage property: costumes, a bucket of potatoes, a crate with champagne, blankets, stitches, glasses and many other things.

Mila, helped by a few guests, gathers the martisor and the paper butterflies rooted on the silky curtain. Ion, the main actor, jumps to help. Not before he scans with his gaze the chairs in the hall, overhunged with blue leather and full of cracks out of which a wan sponge-like material breaks out.

Alone or in pairs, the villagers start to gather in front of the House of Culture. The women hurry to come in, while the consorts linger outside, talking and smoking. Near the hand-mae flyer, a few tormented by their jobs men, but with a smile like they have something up their sleeves, review the gossips on the village agenda and keep pointing with their finger at the photo of the main actor. On the front stairs, a dozen of little children sit quietly, while holding their tickets close to their chests.

From inside, the mayor looks out the window. In his hand he has two tickets – one for him, and the other one for his first teacher. “She has to come. If she doesn’t, I guess I’ll give the ticket to a trespasser”, consoles himself the Mayor.

Takes a look at his watch – only five more minutes until the show starts, but the people keep on coming. Obviously upset, the mayor forgets about his first teacher:

-Eh, our people are used to come like there’s a christening dinner party. Such is the custom, here at the countryside – the people have to feed their animals…, explains the mayor and angrily arranges his CALM chest badge.

Mila quickly leaves the ticket table and enters the noisy and impatient hall, to tell the villagers the rules of behavior.

-Dear men and beautiful women, please do not make any noise during the spectacle, because these people are from Chisinau.

Then, turns to a kid who just entered the hall:

-And, if you will keep walking in and out that door, I won’t let you come in anymore, yelled she furiously.

Finally, the show starts. Delayed by one hour. “During the performance, we ask you to shut down your cellphones and not to use cameras”, solemnly announces a voice from the speakers. Worried that she would miss the begining, Mila, too, slips in the hall. Not before she asked the placers to call her, if there’s someone wondering around without a ticket.

The silence in the hall is accompanied by the cracking of sunflower seeds and the fizz of soda bottles. The kids are in sync too, groaning periodically, like the cellphones sounds.

-What do you want, Eh? I’m at the theater! – suddenly yells a stout woman, after which, calmly hides her cell in her pocket.

The curtain is drawn and the 200 pairs of eyes are fixed on the stage – an old man with a belly too big for his thin cheeks lays on a laiță ( a type of bed made from wood, similar to a bench). Gets up with difficulty, sighing deeply. “It’s Ion Jitari, Nina and Valerie Pimovici’s son”, the spectators whisper.

The old man on the stage is only 28 years old.

***

Last night he had a nightmare. As if he was at his parents’ house. Gazes at the House of Culture, which he could very well see from his yard – No one. “Really, no one wants to come see the play?” This moment waked him up. Remained with his eyes fixed on the ceiling for a few minutes.

When he arrived at the “Luceafarul” theater, where he works since he left his faculty benches, the stage property was already loaded in the bus. Questions are still swarming in his head: Will people come to the play? How will it be? How will the public react?

-Today is actor Ion Jitari’s zveozdnîi ceas (moment of glory).

We’re going to perform in his village, – comes the ironic explanation from one of his colleagues.

Before they start up the bus, the troupe chief calls the roll.

The jokes about Ion don’t cease, tough.

-Eh, let it go, anyway Ion will be the only one to talk today at the show, so don’t worry if someone’s missing, – a voice from behind is heard.

-Hey, Ion, do you have Star Kebab in your village? – a colleague asks.

– There’s Subway – says another one staring out the window, after which they burst out laughing.

Ion doesn’t really bother with his colleagues’ remarks. Keeps on wondering around, somewhat depressed, inside the buss. And is always munching something – either a pretzel, or a piece of pie. After a while on the road, the troupe chief commands a general rehearsal. Many didn’t like it, but they all comply. Ion forgets his lines a copule of times, is nervous.

– Ion is depressed and turned in upon himself when he saw that he didn’t know the lines, one of his colleagues gives him a sharp pinch.

Impassively, Ion turns to the chief:

– Stela, wasn’t there another actor from Copceac who player for “Luceafarul”?

– Yes, his name was Lazarev.

– Was he better than me?

– Ha, ha! A little better, Ion!

At the entrance in the village, Ion yelled happily. Looks longingly at his childhood streets, now marked with the European Union’s emblem. The people start to agitate. Ion is the most excited. The bus stops in front of the House of Culture.

***

By the middle of the show, the villagers were already relaxed and were all laughing with no restraints. The women liked it best when the heroine with the livid eye and jolly mind entered the stage, and men – when her husband, a little livid around the eyes too, caresses his wife with swear words.

At the end of the play, the main hero dies. A kid begins to roar – wants to resurrect the old man at any price. His mom is forced to take him outside to explain him that the old man is alive and unhurt.

Finale. Applause. Touched, the mayor congratulates the “Licurici” actors. Someone corrects him. He apologizes, then continues. Messes up the words again. Tries to make jokes, but not everyone gets them. Leaves the stage.

The directress goes up on the stage and praises Ion for following his dream. The first teacher enters on the stage too – praises his school jinks and mentions the fact that he didn’t forget the “stage” that raised him.

Five minutes later, the hall is empty. Only the theater employees are still there to collect the stage property. Piles of sunflower seeds’ crust are shining under the chairs, in the corners – empty bottles. An actor is taking photos of the surroundings. Says to himself:

– Well, what can you do these people!?

In front of the House of Culture, Ion is saying goodbye to his parents. Promises them that he’ll come home more often and tells them not to cut the pig until he comes from Chisinau. Takes a flower bouquet and gives it to his mom. Kisses her on the front head and gets in the bus.

Photo – Polina Cupcea and Nicoalae Cușchevici

Thanks to the actors troupe "Luceafărul" for allowing us to disturb their trip