THE BALD SOPRANOS
Kat Mustatea, Peter Burr / United States, Greece, Romania
Auto-fiction portrait of a Romanian immigrant family settling in the United States in the 1980’s, presented as an infinitely-generative video game. Staged as an American TV sitcom on endless repeat, stock digital avatars perform increasingly dysfunctional variations on the family drama while haunted by memories of the Ceaușescu regime.
“The Bald Sopranos” is an auto-fiction portrait of a Romanian immigrant family settling in the United States in the 1980’s, presented as an infinitely-generative video game. Staged as an American TV sitcom on endless repeat, stock digital avatars perform increasingly dysfunctional variations of a family drama while haunted by memories of the Ceausescu regime. The story’s framework explores the formal language of theater and of cinema as they meet inside of a game engine, in pursuit of a new Theater of the Absurd for the digital age.
Our point of departure is “The Bald Soprano,” a play by Romanian-born playwright Eugen Ionesco, which was written as a textual loop and has been staged continuously since 1957 in Paris until the present day. In the tradition of absurdism-as-critique of totalitarian systems envisioned by Ionesco, this work updates his concept of the “anti-play” for a modern game engine environment.
NPC’s—non-player characters—with each their own set of automated behaviors, are set in motion to enact infinite variations of the protagonist family’s domestic conflicts. Existing media works in this vein include Ian Cheng’s “Life After BOB” and “Ork Haus” by Theo Triantafyllidis. But “The Bald Sopranos” extends those fictive projects to a non-fiction portrayal of a particular family and of a larger diaspora alienated even from itself by geo-political forces. Modular scenes of two or more characters act as containers in which different aspects of dramatic conflict are unpacked, in endless variation. The characters speak in a made-up language called Românglish, a blending of English with Romanian linguistic morphologies, that offers access to partial, but not full meaning of what is being expressed. Dramatic tension comes from not only the sequence of these scenes, but also from an exploration of cinematic language to convey meaning.
The story is focused on Kat Mustatea’s personal background. Born in Bucharest to a Romanian / Ukrainian family, she immigrated as a young child to the United States in 1984, among the very few able to leave Romania during the Ceaușescu regime. Growing up in the States, Kat would often hear a blended language spoken at home that might be called Românglish. The English “I walked to the library” would blend with the Romanian, “Am mers până la bibliotecă” to become in Românglish: “Am walkuit până la librărie.” Generating such dialogue offers a linguistic portrait of a family left in the United States without a linguistic community.
The staging of the story is based on Peter Burr’s distinctive digital scenographies. Interiors are modeled on the tropes of American TV sitcom living rooms from the 1980’s, with their interchangeable sense of suburban same-ness. They are offset by exteriors that present a historical re-interpretation of Romania during Ceausescu’s regime in the 1980’s. The characters that inhabit this world have a deliberate, agonizing everybody-ness about them. While they stand for specific historical figures, they are nevertheless imbued with an allegorical sense of humans as cogs inside systems of power much larger than themselves. Their awkward gestures and linguistic brokenness point to an invisible, systemic dysfunction.
We hope to use our time at CPH:LAB to solidify the conceptual premise for this project and to develop a working prototype. We are hoping, along the way, to make contact with Romanian-based developers to collaborate on the technical details of implementation.