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The Spectator Sentenced to Death

By Matéi Visniec
Translated By Jozefina Komporaly

Edited and translated by Jozefina Komporaly, Plays from Romania: Dramaturgies of Subversion is out today from Methuen Drama, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing. This unique transnational anthology includes plays by Herta Müller (adapted for the stage by Mihaela Panainte), György Dragomán, Matéi Visniec, András Visky, and the Giuvlipen Theatre Company. The excerpt below is taken from the second act of The Spectator Sentenced to Death, an absurdist play by renowned author and playwright Matéi Visniec.


Soldiers bring in a man tied up, with a cloth hood over his head. He keeps fighting and, to judge by the noises he’s making, he has been gagged.

DEFENSE COUNSEL: The author of what?

COURT CLERK: The author of this play.

JUDGE: What? This piece of junk has an author?

COURT CLERK: For all intents and purposes, yes.

PROSECUTOR: Strange. Are you claiming that this man has previously written down everything we are saying here?

COURT CLERK: It would seem so.

DEFENSE COUNSEL: Word by word?

COURT CLERK (Edges towards Witness 7 and pushes him to the ground): Yes.

JUDGE: You mean that everything we’ve said so far was already in the text?

COURT CLERK (Casting a glance at the text): Basically, yes.

PROSECUTOR: Without skipping anything?


JUDGE: What if we feel like saying something that’s not in the text?

COURT CLERK: Well, he might get annoyed.

PROSECUTOR: Why doesn’t he talk?

COURT CLERK: No idea. This is what these authors are like, kind of quiet and strange.

PROSECUTOR (To Witness 7): Excuse me, sir, would you mind answering a few questions?

DEFENSE COUNSEL: Or perhaps you’d like me to say a few words you have never written and could have never even imagined.

PROSECUTOR: It’s obvious he doesn’t want to answer.

COURT CLERK: Come on, talk to us, why don’t you say something? Just say something, to help justice, seriously…

JUDGE: What’s he saying?


JUDGE: Goodness gracious, what the hell is wrong with him?

COURT CLERK: I think he’s ignoring us, Your Honor.

PROSECUTOR (To Witness 7): Answer please. The prosecutor is asking you. We need your witness statement to shed light on the truth.

DEFENSE COUNSEL: It’s clear as day that he doesn’t give a damn about the truth.

PROSECUTOR (Irritated): Oh dear! Incredible, seeing and not believing!

DEFENSE COUNSEL (To Witness 7): Why this silence, sir? You really think we know nothing and have no idea about literature?

COURT CLERK: It’s obvious that the witness is defying this Court, Your Honor. We should really change our methods.

PROSECUTOR: Unbelievable! This man is the only person in a position to tell the truth and, alas, he refuses to speak!

DEFENSE COUNSEL (To Witness 7): Come on, tell us the truth!

PROSECUTOR: At least two or three words.

COURT CLERK (To Witness 7): Please, sir, say YES three times.

JUDGE: He should at least raise his hand a little, the right palm, if possible.

COURT CLERK (To Witness 7): Listen, sir, we’ll be satisfied if you raise your right palm a little.

JUDGE: Doesn’t want to?


PROSECUTOR: He doesn’t want to.

DEFENSE COUNSEL: What if we made an opening around his mouth?

JUDGE (Produces a pair of scissors): Gently, please. There’s nothing more sensitive in a writer than their mouth.

DEFENSE COUNSEL, assisted by the others, cuts a small hole into the cloth sack that covers the head of WITNESS 7, who keeps struggling and lets out a range of muffled sounds.

DEFENSE COUNSEL (To Witness 7): We are listening, sir.

PROSECUTOR: Your play is nothing but a long waffle, just so you know. By the way, this line with the waffle is written down there, right?

DEFENSE COUNSEL: You really think that you can have us in your pocket? That you can simply wring the neck of your characters as you please, as and when you want?

PROSECUTOR: You really think that we are only capable of saying stuff that is already scripted? That all we are capable of thinking has to be already written down? That you can oblige us to say and do whatever you want? That all we can ever do and think until the end of our days is already scripted?

DEFENSE COUNSEL: What if I decide to keep silent?

PROSECUTOR: What if I won’t say a thing?

DEFENSE COUNSEL: Is this aspect also stipulated in the text?

PROSECUTOR: Perhaps you’ve also stipulated that I, as your character, may not want to utter this text?

DEFENSE COUNSEL: What a megalomaniac!

COURT CLERK: It’s all in vain, gentlemen. The witness refuses to speak.

JUDGE: Goddammit, make that hole around his mouth bigger!

COURT CLERK (Cutting another hole): Same thing all over. The witness has an additional sackcloth under each hole cut into the top layer.

DEFENSE COUNSEL (Cutting a hole in the sack that covers the head of Witness 7): Come on, tell us the truth.

DEFENSE COUNSEL (Cutting another hole): We’re listening. What exactly did you want to convey with these rubbish plays of yours?

COURT CLERK (Screaming): The message, man! What’s your message?

PROSECUTOR: What shall we do, Your Honor? The author doesn’t seem to have anything to say.

JUDGE (Sadly): What a shame!

PROSECUTOR: Authors! That’s what you get with these authors. They think they are the salt of the earth, but at the moment of truth, they just curl up in a ball, without saying a single word.

DEFENSE COUNSEL: Please talk to us, sir! You are our last hope! The last hope for humanity, no less! The last hope for truth! Thousands and millions are waiting to hear your words! Everybody has been waiting for you, as if you were the Messiah. Talk! Show us what’s rotten and where! Show us where the evil is hiding, in each and every one of us, put your finger on rottenness and decay! Save us! We beg you, sir, save us!

PROSECUTOR: My ass! He’s stubborn like a donkey.

COURT CLERK (To Witness 7): Don’t abandon us!

JUDGE (Wiping off a tear in the corner of his eye): In this way we’ll end up all alone, until the end of time…

PROSECUTOR (Red with anger): Here, take your text back! Take it! (Tears out a page, rolls it up and sticks it into one of the holes cut into the sack) We refuse to take part in your masquerade!


This is an extract from Plays from Romania: Dramaturgies of Subversion, edited and translated by Jozefina Komporaly and published by Methuen Drama, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing. By arrangement with the publisher. All rights reserved.


Related Reading:

"The Release of Mr. K" by Matéi Visniec, translated by Jozefina Komporaly

Foreign Affairs: Theater Translation in the Age of Zoom

"The Colonel's Wedding," drama by  Wajdi Muhammad Abduh al-Ahdal, translated by Katherine Hennessey

Published Oct 21, 2021   Copyright 2021 Matéi Visniec

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