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The Age: The Collected Works of Victor Bergman

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See article in its original context here by John Bailey for The Age.

Real life disappearing man inspires thrilling venture

In 2009 Aaron Orzech had the kind of encounter you’d expect to find in a Pinter play or an early Ian McEwan novel. The Melbourne actor and his girlfriend were backpacking through a Romanian village when they fell in with an older man who claimed the name of Victor Bergman. Within a day the mercurial and charismatic gent had formed a fast connection with the pair, and within two he had married them in a hastily arranged ceremony. On the third day he vanished. Orzech was left wondering what Bergman had really wanted from the young Australians, and what, in turn, they  got from him.

“He was extremely charismatic,” says Orzech. “We’ve got a whole bunch of photos of him and one of the first things that we remarked on was that he does almost look like a different person in every photo. He had these catchphrases that he would use, and he told me a lot of stories that would all end with this line: ‘I never want to see you again’.”

Bergman had an amazing facility with languages, says Orzech. He spoke English fluently with little trace of an accent. “And he was really great fun to be around. With everyone in the village and everyone we met, he would get people on side really quickly. He convinced a whole bunch of people to lend us things for the wedding. He convinced a guy he had never met to lend him a three-piece suit and a stereo.”

The rapid bond Orzech formed with Bergman was such that his sudden disappearance has haunted the actor for five years. “I had a few anxiety attacks after he left and sometimes I’d see his face somewhere or I’d have nightmares of him coming into our room at night,” he says.

The encounter is the basis for The Collected Works of Victor Bergman, the first production by new outfit The Family. Part documentary and part psycho-thriller, the show also plays on the parallels with Orzech’s own working relationship with actor Brian Lipson, who embodies Bergman in the piece. “We realised it was about this archetypal encounter between an older and a younger man. We’ve talked a lot about the idea of the master and student, which is where my relationship with Brian feeds into it.”

As Orzech, Lipson and director Romanie Harper explored the enigma at the work’s core, they realised that part of its unsettling nature was “that there was no easy answer for why Bergman had so intensely engaged with this fantasy of our wedding.”

Yet the piece is as much a critical examination of Orzech’s own investment in that fantasy. “As much as we think of Romania as a place where a figure like Victor Bergman can easily appear and then disappear, there’s also something deeply attractive about that as a fantasy which draws people like me to Romania in the first place. The fantasy or desire to disappear or lose yourself is always running in both directions.”

The Collected Works of Victor Bergman opens on December 4, at fortyfivedownstairs.

Image: Student and teacher: Brian Lipson and Aaron Orzech. Photo: Anu Kumar/Fairfax Media

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