SERBIAN PLAYWRIGHT Biljana Srbljanovic has a reputation for dramatizing political and controversial subjects. Her latest piece, “This Grave Is Too Small for Me,” which premiered at Vienna’s Schauspielhaus last October and has been part of the company’s repertoire all season (the next production is June 16), is no exception. Focused on Gavrilo Princip and his friends in the weeks leading up to his assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914, the play has inspired rave reactions from audiences in Graz, Belgrade and Sarajevo as well as at Berlin’s Schauuehne Theater (where it will be staged again June 2-3). It will be produced in Lyon and Prague in the fall. Based in Belgrade and Paris, Ms. Srbljanovic, 43, recently spoke to us about the play, the constraints of commissioned work and being a theatrical version of Pussy Riot.
Why did you decide to write this play?
It was commissioned by the Schauspielhaus. Most German-speaking theaters started to do pieces on the 100-year commemoration of the First World War and [it] wanted something a little different. I am not very much into history and utterly not interested in World War I, but I said the only thing that could interest me there was the assassination, because Gavrilo was a Serbian guy, in Sarajevo, and more or less started the war.
As you did research, did you become more intrigued?
I suddenly fell in love with the historical persons, Princip and the guys. And I found the political, philosophical, ethical, feminist and leftist ideas something that I share in a very strange shape with them. So I tried to find a kind of a narrative that was not historical–they speak in today’s language–but still it is very much based on true facts, trying to make a point that they were humans and what kinds of persons they were.
Is it harder to work on commissioned pieces?
I have been working with theaters that commission my work since the very beginning. But this was the first time I was given a subject and, even though it was a very open and vast subject, and I could do whatever I wanted with World War I and emphasize the political side, still there is a constraint. In the beginning I was like: What am I doing? This is not for me.
Do audiences in different countries react differently to your work?
In Germany I am very much like a common, normal playwright who is produced very often. But in France, they always think my work is very, very violent, like the Pussy Riot of the theater scene. The perception and perspective of each audience makes a huge difference.