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Ján Kroner: Following a family acting tradition

"I was always embarrassed in front of my father. He was a very hard critic," Ján Kroner says as he chugs his intermission juice. "I had stage fright when my father came to my first performance, 'Catch-22.' I have stage fright at every premiere, but it was nothing like that night." "I don't think there was ever a more stressful time in my life than when I was waiting for his verdict after the performance," Kroner continued. "He liked the performance and he said that I was 'good.' My career now, could have depended on that opinion."
That was years ago. Now Kroner, a celebrated actor, feels at home in the Slovak National Theater (SND) among his peers. Currently performing in most of the plays in this season's repertoire, Kroner has also scored the leading role in several of the most recent premieres like Turrini's "Day of Insanity" ("Šialený deň") and Gogoľ's "Marriage" ("Ženba"). The response has been overwhelming judging from audience reactions.


The cast of "Marriage" (Ženba) takes a bow.
Ron Severdia

"I was always embarrassed in front of my father. He was a very hard critic," Ján Kroner says as he chugs his intermission juice. "I had stage fright when my father came to my first performance, 'Catch-22.' I have stage fright at every premiere, but it was nothing like that night."

"I don't think there was ever a more stressful time in my life than when I was waiting for his verdict after the performance," Kroner continued. "He liked the performance and he said that I was 'good.' My career now, could have depended on that opinion."

That was years ago. Now Kroner, a celebrated actor, feels at home in the Slovak National Theater (SND) among his peers. Currently performing in most of the plays in this season's repertoire, Kroner has also scored the leading role in several of the most recent premieres like Turrini's "Day of Insanity" ("Šialený deň") and Gogoľ's "Marriage" ("Ženba"). The response has been overwhelming judging from audience reactions.

Still, even with all of those lead rolls, an actor's ego is a fragile one. "I don't know if I am a good actor," Kroner said. "In drama school I thought that both Robert DeNiro and Dustin Hoffman could learn something from me. But I have lost this feeling and now whenever I receive a new role it surprises me and I feel I don't know anything about acting. I have to leave it to other people to say if I'm good or not."

Some may argue that acting has always been in his blood because Kroner comes from a long line of actors. Not only was his father, Jan Kroner Sr., highly praised for his acting performances in television, film and the theater, but his mother, aunt and other relatives all caught the acting bug long before passing it down to him.

"I would like to be an actor in America," Kroner said. "Everyone {of the actors here} wants to be an actor in America also." he said as he checked his hair in the closest of many mirrors. "But I think that it's too late for me to learn English. I also can't study. All I know from my English classes at school is: 'Is this your handbag? No it is not my handbag. Is this your umbrella? No it is not my umbrella'. That's it."


After the show, Ján Kroner relaxes in the actors only café.
Ron Severdia

But wait a minute. What about all that learning and memorization necessary to prepare for a role? An actor has an exceptional task when performing a leading role, especially in a challenging linguistic form like Shakespeare.

"It's just drilling the lines," Kroner said. "I have big problems memorizing text. Some actors come to the first performance with their text completely memorized. I can't do that."

"The best time for me is when I go to the toilet. I can automatically count on two cigarettes or twenty minutes. Nobody bothers me there and I can concentrate on my lines," he chuckled.

But not everyone thinks that Kroner is worthy of so much praise. Several critics have said that American playwright Sam Shepard eludes the understanding of Slovak actors; in particular, "True West", starring Kroner and SND actor Marián Geišberg. Critics have pointed to cuts and changes from the original script as well as the addition of an obtuse monologue from Anouilh's "Medea". Slightly irked, Kroner responded, "I think that people should go to see it and judge for themselves. Our spectators so far have liked it and it is clear that we understand Shepard."

Marriage

In his current lead role in "Marriage," Kroner plays a man who is against marriage, but forced to look for a wife out of fear of getting old. He is just one of four suitors courting a young lady, who obviously faces a difficult decision. His best friend, also played by "True West" actor Geišberg, convinces him against his will that he is in love with the young lady. Kroner's character then races the stage chanting, "I will run for president and when I win, I will make it a law that everyone must get married. It doesn't matter what age. Then there will be no lonely people in the whole country." The audience instantly responds with lengthy applause.

Kroner also understands the theater and its power to communicate with people. "I hope not only that I give pleasure to people, but I can hopefully give them something else to think about for at least a short period of time," he said. "I am pleased when I see people after the performance and they are laughing and having a good time. These things make it worth it for me."

Kroner also understands when foreigners come to see his performances in the National Theater, "I've also seen performances in foreign languages before. It was good but of course I prefer to know the play beforehand. But I think that the language of theater is international."

To quell a non-Slovak's fear of attending a performance in a foreign tongue, Kroner summed it up by saying, "Acting is not about language, but other things. The music. The scenery. If it's a good performance, it doesn't matter what language it's in. I can tell, like any other spectator, if any actor is lying. You can see it in their eyes."

Kroner regularly performs at the Mala scena and D.P.O.H. theaters in Bratislava almost on a daily basis. "True West" ("Kovboj ako delo") plays once a month at the Divadlo a.ha. located at Školská 14. The next performance is on May 12 at 7 p.m.

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