As the rain fell throughout Shkoder yesterday evening, December 12, I was inside the Migjeni Theater at the grand opening of the play “Tre Vete Ne Nje Varke” (Three Lives and One Boat), written and adapted by Stefan Capaliku, noted Albanian scholar, professor and writer.
The story could have been applied to any number of Albanian families throughout the country during the communist regime, but it was centered on a family in the city of Shkodra. Three brothers: Gjon, Mark, Luka and their mother Marije, living under the rule of communism; always watched, spied on, surveilled, thus living precariously from one day to the next for fear of being denounced for some meaningless action or word.
As the story opens, c.1950’s, it shows the love shared between mother and sons who, although living with the barest of means provided, show that their love for each other is insurmountable. The three young men have a strong desire to escape to the west and plan on building a boat that would hopefully take them across lake Shkoder to freedom. As doubts and fears begin to settle in their mother reassures them that they must go and start a new life, free from oppression. They must study, find meaningful work and live freely.
In the second act the raw truth settles in when they are caught by way of a family friend who reported them. They are taken into custody and sent to trial, where they are each condemned to years in prison and thus their dreams destroyed. As if that was not enough, their mother, distraught over the turn of events, loses all senses and despairs over the fate of her sons, ultimately dying of a broken heart.
The last act has the three, now old men, living in their house struggling with their fate and their wish to still leave the country now under ‘democracy’. The three brothers reminisce about their life, at the same time facing legal battles to settle their legal issues through innumerable court appearances and having to deal with the corrupt legal system. Ultimately they give up and begin work on rebuilding ‘the boat’.
Mr. Cepaliku did an excellent job through his script in expressing the angst of a mother at the prospect losing her three sons forever or being caught by the authorities, yet at the same time showing a mother’s true love for her children by supporting their decision to leave and be free. I also felt the sons’ feelings of oppression and strong desire to leave, combined with their uncertainty of leaving their mother alone, was very well communicated.
I am not a theater critic by any means and my Albanian is not fluent, however I left the theater feeling a sense of familiarity with the people who lived through that horrible period. I don’t think the language was a barrier for understanding the essence of the play and feeling somehow connected to it, even though I didn’t grow up here. The story is one too familiar with almost all Albanians. For me personally it is something my family lived through. I had two uncles killed during the resistance fighting. One uncle who managed to escape after five years in the worst internment camp in Albania, in Tepelene and go on to join his brother, my father and his father, ultimately building a family and living to be 90 years old. My other family members; great-grandmother, grandmother, two aunts, one uncle and three cousins all lived and some died in concentration camps. The survivors returning to their family home in 1991, bent but not broken. Never broken, never subjugated by the regime and never, ever denying their faith and name.
If you are in Shkodra and want to experience a bit of Albanian ‘flavor’ in the way of theater and history I would recommend seeing this play. It is running through December 15.Mr. Stefan Cepaliku (playwright) with Bianca Gjomarkaj-Nakovics