Roughly translated as a the Tailors Days in the House of Silmachi written by Latvian famous playwright Rūdolfs Blaumanis the Skroderdienas Silmačos always appears at the Latvian theaters every June before Jāņi celebrations on June 23 -24. Why? Because the plot of the play happens before, during and after the Jāņi celebrations. A play with comedy, drama and songs this play has been the most popular Latvian Theater play since the beginning of the XX century. Today it’s mostly played on the Latvian National Theater, but it has been played on other theaters, open air theaters, Russian Drama Theater and even Doll Theater.
The play resolves around the house of Silmači and surrounding houses. The mistress of the house a wealthy widow Antonija is getting married to much younger Aleksis, who is not too exited about it. To tailor the wedding dress for Antonija and wedding suit for Aleksis the tailors are invited. Tailor Dūdars a Antonija’s love in younger days arrives with his craft student Rūdis and Jewish sewer Zāra (Sarah). And us usual the old Jewish cloth salesman Ābrams comes along to sell cloth for the wedding clothes. He then by his surprise meets his son Joske who he immediately suspects of him of hanging around Zāra who he forbids Joske to marry. At the same three old servant women Pindacīša, Tomuļmāte and Bebene resolves around the tailors and Jews to get cheaper goods using gossip and blackmail. The tailor student Rūdis makes friends with Aleksis brother Kārlēns and Ieviņa the Pindacīša’s daughter. And then there is young servant Elīna who is unhappy for some reason especially around Aleksis.
As the story goes many unexpected things happen, Rūdis accidentally releases bees from their stocks. Joske is both blackmailed by Rūdis and Pindacīša, who saw him kissing with Zāra and threaten to tell it to Ābrams. Joske is forced to give dynamite to Kārlēns and scarf to Pindacīša. Rūdis placed dynamite in stove to dry it out. However, Ābrams finds that Pindacīša has one of his scarfs and accuses her of stealing it and telling it to her angry husband. She then tells Ābrams about Joske and Zāra and convinces him to get on the stove and spy on Joske and Zāra. Ābrams gets on the top of the stove, but instead the old Bebene comes to have a secret smoke with her pipe. As everyone comes in, Bebene in panic drops the pipe in the stove with the dynamite blowing it up with Ābrams on top of it. With that the first part of the play ends.
Story continues and reveals the true story behind Aleksis sadness about the marriage. He never really wanted to marry Antonija, instead he loves Elīna. He proposed Antonija after too much wine. After the Jāņi night he finally convinces to Antonija that he cannot marry her. Dūdars then steps in and old love between him Antonija is reborn. Meanwhile with the help of others, Ābrams gets even with Joske and allows him to marry Zāra. A play ends with three marriages – Dūdars with Antonija, Aleksis with Elīna and Joske with Zāra. And so this is a rough summary of this play – what makes it so special in Latvian history?
It all begun in 1901 when Rūdolfs Blaumanis born on 1862 wrote the play and issued it first in a book on 1902. The other intended name for the play was the “The Lost hearts”. Music was composed by Aleksandrs Būmanis a student who Blaumanis met on 1899. The idea for the play was made by other Latvian famous novelist Jānis Poruks, who wanted to write stories about people in the village of Silmači near Druviena in Gulbene district. Poruks lived near the village in Vidzeme region and wanted to write stories about the life’s of the village people. Poruks never wrote any story about Silmači, but he told his idea to Blaumanis who took the inspiration for his own play. He wrote the play in three weeks and in next thee or four weeks made reviewed it.
The play was first held at the Riga Latvian Theater on January 30 1902. While the general public loved the good humor, the realistic characters and natural rural setting. Some of the characters were based on real life- Kārlēns the young rascal was one of the Blaumanis nephews. Old Jew Ābrams was based on local Jew Ulpītis at Ērģļi and re appeared in other plays. However, the critics were harsh calling it “conglomerate”, a “verbiage of most vivid unfitting scenes”. Blaumanis died on 1908 and the play was yet to witness its fame. Play returned to stage on 1921. Famous attempt to make play according 16th century Italian commedia dell’arte style was made by famous Latvian play director Eduards Smiļģis. It was called a revolution in the Latvian theater. On 1935 another grand director Alfreds Artmanis-Biedrītis chose the charming Lilija Štengele that some critics considered too elegant to country house mistress. In this play more song words were added like the famous Kārlēns and Ieviņa song “There will be birching after all”.
On 1940 when Latvia was occupied it was required to show this play in the Moscow delegation. The final dress rehearsal was done but the German invasion halted it. After the second soviet occupation, the new power was skeptical about the play. The friendly relations between Antonija and her servants was against the communist ideology of class warfare, after Holocaust it was no longer safe to portray Jews in satiric manner. On 1955 the Riga Drama Theater received rights to held play again under the lead by Alfreds Artmanis-Biedrītis. It was a state-wide success with legendary actors Anta Klints, Žaņa Katlaps, Emma Ezeriņa, Mirdza Šmithene, Alfrēds Jaunušān, Velta Līne and others. Since then it was considered as tradition to show this play every year before Jāņi festival.
Since then in every decade at least two times in a decade a new director and cast is shown. A much know cast was from 1975 with Astrīda Kairiša as Antonija and Ģirts Jakovļevs as Dūdars. Uldis Dumpis played Ābrams making it the most recognized portrayal of Ābrams of all.
On 1986 the play was held at Druviena open air hall gathering 16 000 viewers. A museum dedicated to the play was made there. A year later the Latvian National revival started making this play based on old times even more popular. After Latvia regained independence the play was revived by Edmunds Freibergs on 1994. He begun the tradition to add more younger actors making the characters making more younger. He directed the next cast on 2002. On 2004 Olģerts Kroders the famous director of Valmiera Theater made his own version. The 1994 Latvia National Theater version featured Rolands Zagorskis as Dūdars, Zane Jančevska as Antonija and Ivars Puga as Aleksis. The 2002 version featured new call of actors who are now well known. Dita Lūriņa as Ieviņa, Mārcis Manjakovs – Aleksis, Karīna Tatarinova as Zāra and others. As Eduards Smiļgis on 1924, Edmunds Freibergs also used commedia dell’arte style.
The play was taken on other theaters. Viesturs Kairišš in Riga New Theater on 1998 attempted to show play in the most unusual way giving old woman roles to young and beautiful actresses Elita Kļaviņa, Aurēlja Anužīte featuring erotic references. Play was held also in Druviena at Jāņi day. The Riga Russian Drama Theater made their own version. Also Riga Doll Theater made their own version for kids.
On 2010 a latest cast was played and is on the stage now. Director Indra Roga added a new element house spirits watching the charters and sometimes affecting their actions. Also a brave choice was made for the role of Antonija. For the character stereotyped to be in her forties, Antonija was played by younger Dita Lūriņa. As in contrast to example set by Astrīda Kairiša, the younger and more energetic Dita Lūriņa proved her to be worthy of her new role.
The play never made it to cinema adaption, but on 2010 Jānis Streičs made movie “Rūdolfa Mantojums” (The Will of Rūdolfs) that was a prequel to the Skroderdienas Silmačos although the names of the characters were changed.
The play was so successful in the soviet times because it showed the old way of the Latvian country life – destroyed by the soviet collectivization. Also the Jāņi festival in the play was a crucial element as the Soviets tried to forbid Latvians from celebrating Jāņi festival. 23 and 24 June was a working day in Soviet times, although it was never really banned to celebrate it was urged not to celebrate. But Jāņi were still celebrated and the Skroderdienas Silmačos helped to keep the Jāņi traditions alive. Soviets were unable to erase the Latvian traditional culture, instead they tried to adapt it to their needs. Rūdolfs Blaumanis wrote many other plays as Indrāni, Ugunī and others that were played on theater. Latvian folklore and traditional culture was kept alive during the soviet times and made stunning comeback after the regaining independence. And now every new Latvian generation still likes Skroderdienas Silmačos making this play an everlasting value.