Czech Theater Presents Karel Čapek’s “The White Disease”
The next Czech Theater play will be Čapek’s timeless and timely tale of pandemic and war. Photo credit: Czech Theater.
Brno’s Czech Theater performs Czech plays in English. These plays have ranged from Gabriela Preissová’s realistic drama Jenůfa to Václav Havel’s absurdist Vaněk plays. Coming up this May: Karel Čapek’s The White Disease, a play about the effects of pandemic and wartime stress on several levels of society: the very poor, the middle class, and the political and military leaders.
“A terrible unknown malady… has attacked humanity. [Meanwhile] a dictator, a general, has built up an enormous army, and it cannot be left idle. War is about to be declared.”
The quote could describe the 2020s, but it was written in the 1930s. Following the ravages of the Spanish flu and with the rise of Nazi power, it could have been a news headline. In fact, journalist Oswald Bamborough was writing about the 1937 premiere of The White Disease at the National Theater in Prague.
The play was written just before Czechoslovakia was ceded to Nazi Germany. In the play, an incurable form of leprosy is killing off people over the age of 50; leprosy for Čapek represented decay and moral rot, and he saw this in some of the leaders of his time. The play also reflects his views of how some people in power will hold onto it at any cost and of the exploitation and money-grabbing that can take place in times of conflict and fear.
Karel Čapek is one of the best known Czech writers. He mostly lived in Prague, where he died on December 25, 1938, but he also lived in Brno briefly. He is famously credited with giving the world the word ‘robot’ in his play R.U.R. (Karel himself credited his brother Josef with the word). Czech Theater first started in 2018 with R.U.R., so they’re quite familiar with Čapek’s prophetic style.
“Čapek looked at the present and saw the future,” says Czech Theater’s co-founder Aaron Collier, who is directing the play. “Our actors have been working together to make the story ring true today, almost 90 years later. We’re so excited to be bringing this story to the stage.”
Czech Theater is an amateur multicultural community theater, open to anyone interested; some cast members are regulars and some are stepping on stage for the first time. There are over a dozen different nationalities working together to bring this play to life. This diversity is a reflection of Brno’s growing international community. While the performances are intended so that English-speaking audiences can enjoy Czech theater, it also gives many Czechs the chance to see plays that aren’t often performed in Czech.
This is Czech Theater’s second show at Vesna’s space on Údolní 10. Vesna is a non-profit space for single mothers and families in need, which has been doing tremendous work for Ukrainian refugees over the past year and is a cultural hub in Brno. Tickets are available at smsticket.cz.