I was asked a funny question recently, "Do you have any Estonian friends?" And I wasn't sure how to answer.
My wife has friends, who are by extension my acquaintances. They, in turn, have husbands, who are glad to help and chat when in proximity. But actual sõbrad? I am not so sure.
My "Estonian" friends are typically other foreigners in Estonia, or, oddly enough, eestimaalased, like our friend Flasher T. But if you check my mobile phone, you'll find few Priits or Reins or Urmases. For some reason, Estonian friends have avoided me. That's not to say that Estonians are not capable of having passionate relationships. Just look at Ruja.
I went to see this "rock opera" last week having no idea what to expect. I even thought it was a legitimate rock opera in the vein of Tommy, authored by a band and committed to vinyl. Instead it was a dramatization of the career of Estonia's best known progressive rock group set to their music.
It was solidly enjoyable, and I say this as someone who has experienced all kinds of east coast theater -- Broadway, Off Broadway, Dirty Basement on the Lower East Side. I've even been in musicals before. And this one, Ruja, was good.
Good how so? First of all, superb acting. It literally took several scenes for the naine and I to recognize Priit Võigemast behind his spacey and music conductor-like rendition of principal songwriter and organist Rein Rannap. Then there was Sergo Vares, known to me from his role on Kodu Keset Linna, as mustachioed lead singer Urmas Alender. For me, it's a great thrill when I do not recognize an actor on stage. Also, the cameo of Tõnis Mägi as a rock-singing, stairwell drunk was welcome. And to think I just saw him at the öölaulupidu. Härra Mägi gets around.
Second, in addition to great lighting, costumes, and stage design, Ruja benefited from great camera work. The geniuses behind Ruja decided that not everyone would be able to pick up on the interplay between the actors on stage. Instead, a large screen was centered between the lights that allowed intricate camera work to bring out the action in the script, so when guitarist Jaanus Nõgisto is practicing in the toilet while a drunk Alender urinates, you can actually see the stream; or when Alender falls in love during a duet with the väga andekas Evelin Pang, you can watch him slice off a piece of vorst and share it with her.
Third, Ruja has an honest script. How many performances have you seen with bogus finales? Ruja is not one of those kind of, er, rock operas. Instead you get a genuine look at an Estonian rock band battling with Soviet censors; with the internal disagreements within the band; and with their effort to become big in Moscow that ultimately leads to a decline in the quality of their material and the group's disintegration. A mix of musical performances, chaotic scenes, and actual footage of the band help tie the show together.
And the thing about the total Ruja package is that the fellows in the band, as well as on stage, seemed not only to get along, but to get along passionately. They, despite their bickering, were at least sometimes friends. In this way, Ruja taught me that friendship with Estonians is possible, even if observed second hand.