Comedy from catastrophe: Award-winning director debuts play about flooding of 2002

Alice Nellis

Award-winning director and Czech native Alice Nellis has a new play making its debut this Sunday at the Theatre on the Balustrade in Prague's Old Town. Her films Eeny Meeny and Some Secrets both won a host of trophies, but since 2002 she's stayed away from the silver screen and worked mostly on stage. Her newest work, titled Zaplavy or "Floods" in English, a comedy inspired in part by the catastrophic floods of 2002, is her first original production to appear onstage.

Though catastrophe may seem like a bleak setting for laughter, the script creates humour by placing characters into unfamiliar situations watching how they react, Nellis says.

"You know, a flood is something that comes and takes away not only things but also your routine, the way you are used to living. Your house doesn't have to be underwater and your life can be changed, if it only changes these normal things - like how you go to work, if you go to work, where will you stay, maybe somebody will stay with you.

So in my play the flood is a frame for taking people out of their everyday lives."

The plot centers on two sisters who haven't lived together for quite some time. They're forced to share the house willed to them by their parents after one sister is evacuated. The two have a complex past, and the dialog slowly reveals problems that are rooted in their childhoods.

Nellis says the theatre allows her more leeway to play with reality, and so the ghosts of the sisters' parents even work their way into the mix. Theatre directing is also more collaborative than movie directing. In film, Nellis would have the last say on what scenes make the final cut. On stage, the actors ultimately decide what the audience sees.

"I have to say that this time I've been very, very lucky with the cast; not only that I like the actors, but it seems like the actors like each other. It's a lot of fun, because I had not worked with most of them before.

They made a very good group. So that fact helped a lot because acting is not only about the relationship between the director and the actor but also about the relationship between actors, how much they can concentrate on each other."

Many audience members will recognize Pavel Liska. He's appeared in several movies such as Return of the Idiot, Wild Bees and Something Like Happiness, often in goofy comedic roles. Much of the rest of the cast hails from the Theatre on the Balustrade and are regulars on the stage there.

While she stopped short of saying that her play has a moral, Nellis says there are lessons that can be learned from disaster.

"Sometimes the worst things that happen to you - and floods are pretty bad, for a lot of people they were a real catastrophe - they can be the best that can happen to you because they are purging. They sometimes clean things: Clean your life, clean your old cellar.

Things that at the beginning might really sound like a big loss and catastrophe in the end might turn out like a process that actually might be good and healthy."