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volume 27, no. 1

Winter 2007
Winter 2007

SEEP (ISSN # 1047-0019) is a publication of the Institute for Contemporary East European Drama and Theatre under the auspices of the Martin E. Segal Theatre Center. The Institute is at The City University of New York Graduate Center, 365 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10016-4309. All subscription requests and submissions should be addressed to Slavic and East European Performance: Martin E. Segal Theatre Center, The City University of New York Graduate Center, 365 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10016-4309.


Daniel Gerould




ADVISORY BOARD Edwin Wilson, Chair

Marvin Carlson

Allen ]. Kuharski

Martha W Coigney

Stuart Liebman

Leo Hecht Dasha Krijanskaia

Laurence Senelick

SEEP has a liberal reprinting policy. Publicatio ns that desi re to reproduce materials that have appeared in SEEP may do so with the following provisions: a.) permission to reprint the article must be requested from SEEP in writing before the fact; b.) credit to SEEP must be given in the reprint; c.) rwo copies of the publication in which the reprinted material has appeared must be furnished to SEEP immediately upon publication.





Martin E. Segal Theatre Center publications are supported by generous grants from the Lucille Lortel Chair in Theatre and the Sidney E. Cohn Chair in Theatre of the Ph.D. Program in Theatre at The City University of New York Copyright 2007. Martin E. Segal Theatre Center.


Slavic and East European Performance VoL 27, No. 1


Editorial Policy


From the Editor




Books Received



"Mikhail Butkevich's Theatre of Players:

Theatre and the Art of the Game" Maxim Krivosheyev


"Toward a Theatre of Players" Mikhail Butkevich


"The Grotowski Centre in Wrodaw:

Performances at the Headquarters of Paratheatre!?" Seth Baumrim



"Before Stoppard: Merezhkovsky's Bakunin Play" Laurence Senelick


"The Varna Summer Festival 2006" Dasha Krijanskaia




"Milena MarkoviC's Tracks: Mtg God Look Upon Us


The Utopian Theatre Asylum"


Cheryl Black

"Belarus Theatre Is Free (When It's Not in Belarus):


Night of Free Theater, Culture Project's IMPACT Festival2006"


Evelina Mendelevich"

"Lyubimov's Souj(f)le:

Life and Death at the Taganka" Nicholas Rzhevsky


"Rimas Tuminas's Three Sisters in Moscow" Maria Ignatieva


"Two New York Productions of Uncle Vcurya:

Should They Laugh in the Fourth Act?" Olga Muratova


"The Gospels of Childhood at Brzezinka" Marvin Carlson





Slavic and East European Performance Vol. 27, No. 1


Manuscripts in the following categories are solicited: articles of no more than 2,500 words, performance and fum reviews, and bibliographies. Please bear in mind that all submissions must concern themselves with contemporary materials on Slavic and East European theatre, drama, and film; with new approaches to older materials in recently published works; or with new performances of older plays. In other words, we welcome submissions reviewing innovative performances of Gogo!, but we cannot use original articles discussing Gogo! as a playwright. Although we welcome translations of articles and reviews from foreign publications, we do require copyright release statements. We will also gladly publish announcements of special events and anything else that may be of interest to our discipline. All submissions are refereed. All submissions must be typed double-spaced and carefully proofread. The Chicago Manual of Style should be followed. Transliterations should follow the Library of Congress system. Articles should be submitted on computer disk, as Word Documents for Windows and a hard copy of the article should be included. Photographs are recommended for all reviews. All articles should be sent to the attention of Slavic and East European Peiformance, c/o Martin E. Segal Theatre Center, The City University of New York Graduate Center, 365 5th Avenue, New York, NY 10016-4309. Submissions will be evaluated, and authors will be notified after approximately four weeks. You may obtain more information about Slavic and East European Performance by visiting our website at http// E-mail inquiries may be addressed to

All Journals are available from ProQuest Infor mation and Learning as abstracts online via ProQuest information service and the International Index to the Performing Arts. All Journals are indexed in the MLA International Bibliography and are members of the Council of Editors of Learned Journals.



Volume 27, No. 1 of SEEP is a full issue starting with articles dealing with two of the major twentieth-century theorists of directing and acting. Maxim Krivosheyev writes about Mikhail Butkevich, legendary teacher at Moscow's GITIS (Russian Academy of Theatre Arts), and provides an excerpt from his master work, K igrovomu teatru: liricheskii traktat (Toward a Theatre of Players: A Lyrical Tractate). Seth Baumrin tells about his visits to the Grotowski Centre that has now evolved into an Institute fostering the Grotowski legacy through various programs and performances. Under our rubric PAGES FROM THE PAST, Laurence Senelick explores a litde known episode in Russian theatre history, revealing that Dmitri Merezhkovsky in his play The Romantics made the anarchist Bakunin a hero a century before The Coast of Utopia. The rest of the issue consists of a series of reviews. Dasha Krijanskaia discusses the Summer Festival 2006 in Varna, Bulgaria; Cheryl Black analyzes a play about the Balkan war by Serbian playwright MiJena Markovic given by The Utopian Theatre Asylum in Washington; Evelina Mendelevich visits a performance by the Free Belarus Theater in New York; Nicholas Rzhevsky explores a recent postmodern production by Yury Lyubimov at his Taganka Theatre in Moscow; Maria Ignatieva considers Rimas Tuminas's Moscow production of Three Sisters; Olga Muratova contrasts two Uncle Vcuryas in New York and measures them against a fum; and Marvin Carlson takes a look at The Gospels of Childhood (also viewed in a different setting by Seth Baumrin), performed at the Grotowski Workcenter in Brzezinka.


Slavic and E ast European Performance Vol. 27, No. 1



The Play Company presented ROMANIA. Kiss Me!, featuring the following six short plays from Romania's New Wave at 59E59 Theaters from November 17 to December 3:

Bus by Cristian Panaite, directed by Liesl Tommy.

Red Bull by Vera Ion, directed by Marcy Arlin.

Diagnosis by Ioana Moldovan, directed by Tom Caruso.

Romania. KISS ME! by Bogdan Georgescu, directed by Kaipo Schwab.

FUCK YOU,! by Nicoleta Esinencu, directed by Jackson Gay.

Our Children by Christian Panaite, directed by Iiesl Tommy.

The Coast of Utopia, Tom Stoppard's new trilogy based on the lives of nineteenth-century Russian writers and political thinkers and activists, opened at the Vivian Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Center on November 27.

The Magical Forest of Baba Yaga by Evgeny Shvarts, directed by Aleksey Burago, translated by Stanton Wood, and with original music by Gregg Adair and Colm Clark, was presented at Urban Stages from December 14 to January 7.

Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theatre presented Once There Was a Village, an "ethno-rock opera" chronicling four hundred years of the East Village, written and directed by Vit Horejs, based on a book by Yuri Kapralov, at La MaMa from January 25 to February 11.


Absolute Clarity by Sophia Romma, based on the play by Edvard Rad zins ky, directed by Yuri Joffee, was presented at Playe rs Theater from J anuary 31 to February 25.

My Country, a new interactive installation by Andrea Dezso an d Miwa Koizumi, is being presented at the H ungarian Cultural Center from February 15 to April 13.

The Jewish Theater of New York is prese nting Last Jew in Europe, a new play by Tuvia Tenenbom about a Jewish man in love with a Christian woman in L6dz, Poland, directed by Andreas Robertz and the playwright, at the Triad Theater opening on March 4.

Double Edge Theatre in association with the Polish Cultural Institute presented the New York premiere of R epublic of Dreams, inspired by the life and works of Bruno Schulz, at La MaMa from March 8 to 18.


Lacfybird, by Vassily Sigarev, directed by Yasen Penyakov, received its U.S. premiere at the Bootleg Theatre in Los Angeles from February 16 to March 17.

Princeton University and the Russian State Archive of Literature an d

the world premiere of Vsevolod Meyerhold's censored

production of Pushkin's Boris Godunov, with original music by Prokofiev, directed by Tim Vasen. The project, managed by Simon Morrison, will also include an international symposium on P us hkin, Prokofiev, and Russian theatre; an exhibition devoted to the project, opening April 1 in Princeton's Firestone Library; and spring courses for undergraduates, graduate students, and alumni focusing on aspects of the production. The play and symposium will be presented at the Berlind Theatre in Princeton, New Jersey, from April

Art will present



held at Rive rside

Studios in London, U.K., from November 10 to December 3 and included the following performances:

The Festival of Central and East European Arts was

Soul-etude, a site-specific installation by Petr Nikl with the music of the

Balanescu Quartet, at the Old Abattoir (site-s pecific November 16 to 19.


The Mona

Lisas by Brigitte


in its London


presented by Romania's Ariel Theatre, produced by Theatre Melange, November 21 and 22.

The School of Dramatic Art (Moscow) presented the U.K. premieres of two short plays written and directed by Dmitry Krymov, Sir Vantes







Tale, November 24 and 25.

Farm in the Cave Theatre (Czech Republic) presented the U.K. premiere of SCLAVI/The Songof an Emigrant, based on field research undertaken by the ensemble in villages of eastern Slovakia, old Ruthenian and Ukrainian songs, letters of Slovak emigrants, and the Capek brothers' novel Hordubal, November 29 to D ecember 2.

The National Arts Centre (NAC) theatre presented the exclusive North American engagement of Ivan Viripaev's O:rygene, directed by Galin Stoev, at NAC in Ottawa, Canada, from January 31 to February 3.

The Polish Cultural Institute presented Teatr Provisorium's production of Fert!Jdurke by Witold Gombrowicz at the Bloomsbury Theatre in London, U.K., from February 13 to 17.

Tofstqy, by Miro Gavran, directed by

Marie-France Lahore, translated and adapted by Andrea Pucnik, will be presented at Theatre Silvia Monfort in Paris, France, from March 7 to April29.

Chekhov S~s Good-Bye to


FILM New York City

A retrospective en titled Czech Modernism: The 1920s to the 1940s was presented at BAM from Novem ber 30 to December 10. Films screened included:

The Kreutzer Sonata, directed by Gustav Machacy, presented with spoken English titles and live piano accompaniment by Donald Sosin, November 30.

On the Sun'!Y Side, directed by Vladislav Vancura, Decemb er 1.

Tonka of the Gallows, directe d b y Karel Anton, December 3 .

Such Is Life, directed by Karl Junghans, presented with spoken E nglish titles and live piano accompaniment by Donald Sosin on December 7.

Crisis, directed by H erbert Kline with Alexander Hackenschrnied (a.k.a. Sasha H amrnid), December 8.

Virgini(y, directed by Otakar Vavra, D ecemb er 9.

The DistantJournry, directed by Alfred Radok, December 10.

Abou t a

Revolution was held at Tribeca Cinemas from D ecember 1 to 3 and featured the following films :

The festival The New

Wave in Romanian Cinem a: Talking

The Wqy I Spent the End of the World, clirected b y Cat alin Mirulescu, December 2.

Marifena from

Pl, directed by Cristian Nemescu, December 2.

Humanitarian Aid, directed by H anno Hofer, D ecember 2.

Cigarettes and Coffee, directed by Crisci Puiu, December 2.

The Apartment, directed by Constantin Popescu, December 2.

Love Sick, directed by Tudor Giurgiu, December 2 and 3.

Liviu's Dream, directed by Corneliu Porumboiu, December 3.

C Block Story, directed by Cristian Nemescu, December 3.

Traffic, directed by Catalin Mitulescu, December 3.

A Linema's Cabin, directed by Constantin Popescu, December 3.

The Paper Will Be Blue, directed by Radu Muntean, December 3.

The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, directed by Crisci Puiu, December 3.

Voices of the Children was presented with a post-screening talkback with director Zuzana Justman at Czech Center New York on December 5.

Lury Is in the BedAireac!J, directed by Jitka Rudolfova, and Bubble Bath

Is Best, directed by Jan Prusinovsky, were screened as part of the Student Films from Prague Film Academy (FAMU) series at Czech Center New York on January 9.

The Italian, directed by Andrei Kravchuk, written by Andrei Romanov, received its U.S. premiere at Brooklyn Heights Cinema on January 17.

Still Living, directed by Pavel Gobi, was presented at Czech Center New York on January 25.

The Rafters, directed by Karel Janak, was presented at Czech Center New York on February 15.


Grbavica: Land of A{y Dreams, directed by Jasmila Zbanic, was screened at the Film Forum from February 16 to 27.

The Hungarian Cultural Center presented the Bela Tarr Trilogy in which the following ftlms were screened at BAMcinematek:

Damnation, February 23.

Sdtdntango, February 24.

Werckmeister Harmonies, February 25.

Village B, directed by Filip Remunda, and Jazz War, directed by Vit Klus:ik, were screened together at Czech Center New York on February 27.

Czech Center New York presented Marian, directed by Petr V:iclav, at Bohemian National Hall on March 15.

Czech Center New York presented t he films Small Russian Clouds of Smoke, directed by Jan Sikl, and Intruder, directed by Sarka Slez:ikov:i, as part of the series H eritage of Communism, at Bohemian National Hall on March 27.

The Romanian Cultural Institute in New York (RCINY) presented a Q&A with director Corneliu Porumboiu along with a screening of his short Liviu's Dream at RCINY on February 27.


U.S. Regional

The Way I Spent the End of the World, directed by Catalin Mitulescu, was screened at Laemmle Theaters in Los Angeles on January 8.


Slavic and East European Peiformance Vol. 27, No. 1



The Polish Cultural Institute presented Korczak, directed by Andrzej Wajda, at the Spiro Arc in London, U.K., on December 10.

Andrei Konchalovsky's 1979 Russian epic Siberiade was released in a new DVD format by Kino International in January 2007.


The Hungarian Cultural Center presented Hidden Child, an evening with Hungarian-Jewish Holocaust survivor and author Evi Blaikie, interviewed by Kaci Ruh Paquette, at the Hungarian Cultural Center on January 25.







Moving In,


by Mary Ann






Network for Contemporary Performing Arts (IETM), and featuring Saviana Stanescu, playwright and artistic director of the New Drama Support Program, and Randy Genet, Senior Editor of American Theatre magazine, at RCINY on February 22.

An Afternoon and Evening with Double Edge Theatre, featuring the work of Polish-Jewish artist and writer Bruno Schulz, a one-day film series, an excerpt of DET's Republic of Dreams, and a symposium, was presented at the Martin E. Segal Theatre Center at the CUNY Graduate Center on February 26. The discussion was moderated by Daniel Gerould with panelists David Goldfarb, Stacy Klein, Rolando Perez, Krystyna IHakowicz, and Victoria Nelson. Excerpts from the following films were presented: Tadeusz Kantor's The Dead Class, The Brothers Quay's Street of Crocodiles, Zbigniew Rudzinski's


and Wojciech Has's

The Sanatorium

Under the Hourglass. Video

excerpts from

Szamocin's From a Dream to a Dream were also presented.

Complicite's Street of Crocodiles, and Hand 2 Mouth and Stacja


Columbia University presented a conference entitled A Leap from the Temple of Culture into the Abyss: Decadence in Central and Eastern Europe, featuring papers on Leopold Staff, Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz (Witkacy), Stanislaw Przybyszewski, and Polish decadent music, from March 15 to 17.

The Czech Center New York, in conjunction with the Institute for the Research and Study of Authorial Acting and the Theatre Faculty of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague (DAMU), is presenting ''Acting with the Inner Partner," a free workshop introduction to "dialogickijedndni," one of the Czech Republic's most significant acting training and research disciplines, headed by its creator, Ivan Vyskocil, at Bohemian National Hall (and other locations T.B.A.) from March 20 to April 7.

The Rhodopi International Theater Collective will offer its annual International Theater Program on the theme of "the Epic of Gilgamesh and its mythic, historical, and religious counterparts" in Bulgaria's Rhodopi Mountains from July 12 to August 13. More details regarding the program can be found at


Vaclav Havel won Village Voice OBIE Awards for Distinguished Playwriting in 1968, 1970, and 1984. After years of house arrest in the former Czechoslovakia, he was finally able to accept all three awards at an evening in his honor entitled "Theater and Citizenship," featuring panelists Michael Feingold, Wallace Shawn, Edward Albee, Israel Horowitz, and Anna Deavere Smith, at the Public Theatre in New York on December 4.

The American Association of Teachers of Slavic and East European Languages' (AATSEEL) annual conference, featuring a wide variety of panels on Russian and East Eurpean ftlm, theatre, and music, was held in Philadelphia from December 28 to 30.

On December 21,2006, a Moscow museum dedicated to novelist and playwright Mikhail Bulgakov was vandalized by Alexander Morozov. Morozov, who denounced Bulgakov's work as "satanic," locked himself inside


Slavic and East European Performance Vol. 27, No. 1

the museum, demanded that it be shut down, and threw various objects out the window, including several original illustrations of Bulgakov's works. Approximately half of the museum's contents were destroyed. Morozov had previously lead a successful protest against a local monument to Bulgakov.

Contemporary Posters, the Polish Cultural Institute, and the Consulate General of Poland in Los Angeles are presenting the L.A.-Wide Polish Poster Festival between February 17 and May 27. Exhibitions include:

Cyrk Posters at Track 16 Gallery in Santa Monica, from February 17 to March 10.

Jazz Posters at the Jazz Bakery in Los Angeles, from February 24 to


Jewish Culture Posters at the University of Judaism in Bel Air, from February 25 to May 27.

Film, Theatre, and Opera Posters at Weidman Gallery in West Hollywood, from March 15 to May 26.

Film Posters at Laemmle's Sunset 5 Theatre in West Hollywood, from April21 to May 3.

Exhibition Posters at Voila! Gallery in Los Angeles, from April 26 to May 17.



Je strovic , Silvija. Theatre of Estrangement: Theory, Practice, Ideology. Toronto:

University of Toronto Press, 2006. 181 pages. Deals extensively with Russian theorists and theatre artists such as Eisenstein, Evreinov, Kandinsky, Mayakovsky, Meyerhold, Shklovsky, Stanislavsky, Tairov, Tynjanov, Xlebnik.ov. Includes Notes, Select Bibliography, and Index.

Konarska-Pabiniak, Barbara. Teatry pr01vincjonalne w Krolestwie Pofskim (1863- 1914). Plock: Ksi:t:i:nica Plocka, 2006. 267 pages. Includes an index of names and a list of the many photographs and illustrations.

Kubikowski, Tomasz. Regula Nibelunga: teatr w fwietle noiJ!Ych badmi fwiadomofci. Warsaw: Akadernia Teatralna im. Aleksandra Zelwerowicza w Warszawie, 2004. 371 pages. Includes a bibliography and many diagrams.

Ostashevsky, Eugene, ed. Oberiu. An Anthology of Russian Absurdism. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2006. 257 pages. Includes poetry, prose, and drama by Alexander Vvedensky, Daniil Kharms, Nikolai Zabolotsky, and Nikolai Oleinikov, an Editor's Introduction, Editor's Notes, and Works Cited.

Johnson, Jeff. The New Theatre of the Baftics: From Soviet to Western Influence in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 2007. 222 pages. Consists of four chapters: The Crisis of Relevance; Lithuania: Catholic Spectacle-Directors' Theatre; Estonia: The Lutheran Narrative-W riters' Theatre; Latvia: Focus on Process-Actors' Theatre. Includes a Forward by

D aniel

Gerould, a Preface, Notes, Works Cited, Index, and man y photos.

Bryond the Jltfethod DVD. Discussions with three Russian directors: Herman Sidakov, Rosa Tolskaya, and Igor Lisov, with demonstrations by student actors. In Russian with English subtitles. Copies can be obtained through the American Soviet Theatre Initiative at



Maxim Krivosheyev

In 2003, my American friends from the Michael Chekhov Association introduced me to Rosa Tolskaya, one of the leading Russian experts on the Michael Chekhov technique, a director with a unique style, a student and colleague of Mikhail Butkevich and Anatoly Vasiliev, and one of the very few teachers of a method known as the Theatre of Players-an approach with which, until that point, I had been completely unfamiliar. In addition to leading international workshops on Michael Chekhov technique, Rosa has presented elements of the Theatre of Players method in the United States, Denmark, Germany, Italy, and Latvia. It was one of Rosa's mentors, Mikhail Butkevich (1926-1995)- director, legendary teacher at GITIS (Russian Academy of Theatre Arts), and theatre philosopher-who originated the Theatre of Players method. Rosa told me about his book K igrovomu teatru: firicheskii traktat (Toward a Theatre of Players: A Lyrical Tractate) 1 that she thought would provide a strong basis for an understanding of the system. The more she spoke, the more I wanted a copy.

I discovered that I couldn't buy the book in a store. In fact, I couldn't buy it anywhere. The number of copies of the first edition was limited. I could only buy it by special request at the library of the Schepkin Theatre School at the Maly Theatre-the library acting as a kind of under-the-radar distributor. In addition, I couldn't simply ask for the book. I needed a password to even look at it. Rosa told me I could use her name as the password. I did as instructed, walked into the library of the Schepkin Theatre School, and told the librarian I wanted to buy Butkevich's book. Then I gave her Rosa's name. Without words, the librarian retreated to a storage area and after a short while reappeared with the book in hand. I gave her the money, and she turned the book over to me- never speaking a word. I left with a six-hundred-page text written by a legendary Russian theatre maker. The whole se ries of events replete with hard-to-find copies of limited editions, secret hiding places, and passwords was eerily reminiscent of the Soviet era.

Mikhail Butkevich The book was nicely bound and obviously quite selectively distributed. I felt privileged

Mikhail Butkevich

The book was nicely bound and obviously quite selectively distributed. I felt privileged to possess it. I discovered in talking to various people that many in the Russian theatre community knew Butkevich's work. Several used some of his discoveries and insights in their teaching but, for some reason, rarely discussed his influence on them. My question was why? Perhaps Butkevich's work questions many assumptions held by more

orthodox theatre practitioners and scholars who today are still quite influential in Russian theatre. The work lends itself to rich individual expression in what 1 consider a highly sophisticated way. While I may never fully understand the reasons for Butkevich's absence from many contemporary conversations about Russian theatre, I felt compelled, upon discovering his work, to spread the word about this unique and exciting method.


Mikhail Butkevich









art of

Slavic and East European Peiformance Vol. 27, No. 1

improvisation and theories of game playing. H e held that improvisation is the main ingredient of any game. Games, as many of us know, even in their playfulness often have very strict rules. For the Theatre of Players, there is a belief that the stricter the rules the more interesting the improvisation. For Butkevich and his system, a play text is just a premise, a framework, within which a "game" is played on stage. The greatest tool of the game is improvisation. The action that develops on stage is about the connection and interaction of the game's players. The players don't play characters within a situation; they play with the situation. The game quality moves the players/actors far from the actions of everyday life. What replaces the every day is the living, present-tense action of the game itsel£ What begins to occur through this onstage game playing is the players move further from the expression of daily life, the more sincere, the more natural, the more "true" their actions become. The game becomes its own reality through which the players live. Butkevich explains quite clearly in his writing the important role the game plays within cultures and then extends that importance into the realm of theatre. He writes:

Our world today is preoccupied with games. No joke. Simple people live for entertainment and die to watch a game in a giant stadium. Researchers holed up in their labs are busily developing scientific theories for games. Some theories argue the usefulness of games (the means through which the male attracts the female, how a child learns to live and work, games as social outlets that release built-up tensions of the masses, etc.). Conversely, other researchers study the uselessness o f games. It is unbelievable what theo ries of "the game" have attempted to show! The game is a combination of conforming

behavior with


ambiguity: it teaches pretension and manipulates the moment of truth; it creates strict rules for the players, thereby instigating a desire to circumvent these rules; the nature and luring power of chance and luck within the construct of game creates an excitement and will for victory; it is simultaneously a mystery and a known fac tor. T he game is breathtaking, competitive, provoking, intimidating and exciting,

improvising and calculating, ecstatic and rational. 2

nonconformist thinking; it is a



For Butkevich, the concept of the game penetrates almost every aspect of Western culture, particularly since the mid-twentieth century. He flnds its presence in engineering, mathematics, sociology, education, politics. He even laments its presence in military action. The only arena where Butkevich feels that the game has not effectively taken hold is in the theatre. He sees this fact as a paradox since actors, who explore the art of role-pltrying have not shown themselves to be "interested in game approaches to their craft." To fully understand how Butkevich integrates the game with the theatre, it is essential to understand the complex way he defines the notion of pltry. Pltry and the game are always working together since the game is executed through the act of play. For Butkevich, there are three essential interpretations

of play. T hey run from the most "trivial," what he

role," to the moderately trivial, known as "playing by the role," to the most serio us form, which is described as "playing with the role." The flrst form of play relates to the traditional notion of role-playing performed by the actor. Here one assumes a role or character and represents it to someone else. As Butkevich explains, this form of role-playing represents the minimum quality of the game. It is only in the second form of play that we lose some of the triviality. When one no longer "plays the role" but starts to "play by the role," one begins to see the role itself as a "toy" to manipulate and challenge. For Butkevich, this type of play requires the player "to twist [the role) and turn it with its different facets, even break [it)." In this new relationship to the role, meaning becomes "less usual and less clear, but there is much more of the game." It is only in the fmal defmition of play that Butkevich's locates the greatest amount of game and finds, therefore, the least amount of triviality. Here playing involves connecting to the role as one relates to a chess partner. There is much that is unknown. Risk is high. Everything takes place within a framework of "victory and defeat." The philosophy of the Theatre of Players, grounded in the idea of the game and of play, is fascinating, bu t I was, from my first encounter with it, unclear about how it would be applied in practice? Only when I saw the work in action was I able to have a deeper understanding of it as a useful system in the theatre. After reading Butkevich's book, I asked Rosa Tolskaya if I could see some of her work that employed the Theatre of Players ideas. In 2005, she invited me to see one of the performances of her production of Edward

understands as "playing a

Rosa Tolskaya Albee's Three Tall Women at the House of the Actor Theatre on Old

Rosa Tolskaya

Albee's Three Tall Women at the House of the Actor Theatre on Old Arbat Street in Moscow. The project was created using Butkevich's approach. I came to the theatre without having read the play and, therefore, free from my own interpretation of it. Rosa warned me that the approach might seem at first quite confusing, but everything would eventually fall into place during the second act. As soon as the play began, I did not connect with the text and felt immediately disappointed. The plot centers on the life of one woman as told by three actresses representing the character at three different stages of her life-in youth, middle age, and approaching death. Upon reflection, I see that


this structure provides a lot of opportunity for improvisation, something which Rosa, using Butkevich's system, made full use of. The women were positioned sitting in chairs in a semicircle. Each held the script that was split into three different parts. When the audience settled down, the actresses threw the pages of the script all over the stage and then started the play. They performed the narrative for a period of time, and then one of them stopped the action, picked up a page from the floor, and started her next line from the top of the page. After beginning the text from this new point in the story, she moved upstage to the backdrop and clipped the page from the script onto it. Since the page was chosen at random and the first line could belong to any of the three characters, the actress would, in a moment, have to assume a completely new role. Where once she embodied the woman at the end of her life, she could suddenly have to transform herself and assume the version of the same woman fifty years younger. As the performance continued, each of the actresses at various times picked up pages from the floor until all the pages were attached to the backdrop. This ended the first act. The work proved to be as confusing as Rosa promised. I felt as though I was witnessing a kind of death of the play. Everything was turned upside down, twisted, and unbolted. Yes, it was confusing, but it was also interesting. Extremely interesting. It was so fascinating that I completely abandoned all my concerns about the language and everything that had disturbed me at the start. In the second act, the actresses played their roles as originally written, but the freedom and intensity of the first act created by the game gave the performance a different quality, allowing the audience to perceive the situation instantly rather than trying to get the idea of the play through the text. In fact, the words became merely insignificant. The story was so clear by itself. What did this theatre event do to me as an audience member? Despite my confusion, in the end, I allowed myself to be taken in. Something beyond the play popped up for me and the "true" emotions of the characters seemed to be unmasked, revealing the actresses' mastery of performance. After my powerful experience as an audience member at Rosa's production, l started looking for more artists in Russia who practice similar principles. Through Rosa, I met with Igor Lisov and Herman Sidakov who work with the concept of the theatrical game and use some elements of the


Slavic and East European Peiformance Vol. 27, No.1

Theatre of Players method in their art. Those who are familiar with the work of Anatoly Vasiliev and his theatre may know that he also has practiced the Theatre of Players for a long time, directing Cerceau by Victor Slavkin at the Taganka (1985), and the Dialogues of Plato (1988), and Pirandello's Six Characters in Search of an Author (1987) at the School of Dramatic Art using the Players method.

As I discovered the potential of the Theatre of Players system and the influence it has already had on Russian theatre, I knew that it needed to be made more accessible to artists outside Russia. In 2005 and 2006, my colleagues and I began to organize workshops with Rosa Tolskaya and Herman Sidakov in New York City. Our project, in its early stages, was a very modest undertaking, but we believe that a deep and valuable exchange was in the process of being forged. Russia and the United States have had a very particular and successful theatrical relationship, at least since the 1923 tour of the Moscow Art Theatre to the States. The United States embraced Stanislavsky's Method and gave it new life. It was in the United States that two branches of the same root grew. I believe a similar phenomenon can result from introducing Butkevich's approach to theatre to U.S. audiences and practitioners. Partnering with the ASTI USA Foundation, I have compiled a DVD of interviews with leading Russian theatre artists who employ the Theatre of Players system in hopes that interest may be sparked in the United States. The DVD will be available for distribution in March 2007. 3 If actor training centers in the United States, particularly at the university level, find Butkevich's approach valuable enough, artists like Rosa Tolskaya, Igor Lisov, and Herman Sidakov can bring their aesthetic theories and praxis here more often and offer a broader view of the riches of Russian theatre to the West.


I M. M. Butkevich, K igrovomu teatru: /iricheskii traktat (Moscow: GITIS, 2002). An English translation of the book h as not yet been published. All translation from the text, including the tide, are mine. 2 Butkevich, K igrovomu teatru, 128.

3 For more information regarding obtaining the DVD, please visit:



The Signs of the GameZ

Mikhail Butkevich

What, exacdy, is the game? Don your thick glasses and snuggle up to

a pile of dictionaries. Let's be scientists about it for a minute. There are many definitions of game, but none of them will work for us due to their extreme abstraction and non-organic nature. They are

inconvenient and hard

into the corpse of the "true" game or, in the best-case scenario, a mausoleum- ready plaster cast of a bad idea: the bright colors of life are fading, the flesh of the game is shrinking, the pulse of the game-the drive-is getting thready. First the definition of game limits its freedom; then the more insistendy one attempts to corner it, the more one hunts it to death. The entity we call the game is as multiface ted as life itself, so the task

of squeezing it into one compact formula turns out to be an extremely difficult and complicated business. Of course, if you have the sort of mind that can be

satisfied with the definition of life as the ways and existences of endoplasmic bodies, then we have no problem, then we could get away with defining the game as a useless activity, which has a purpose only in itself. I, too, have tried to come up with a universally encompassing formula of the game. For two and a half years, I lived as an alchemist looking for th e philosophical stone, but with no result. Finally, I had a productive thought:

perhaps we don't need all of these definitions! After all, game-playing is familiar to everyone who has ever been a child; maybe, we would be better off spending time and effort on simply describing the distinguishing characteristics of game-playing, selecting those key characteristics that make a game, a game. At the risk of sounding like an old-school empiricist, I have chosen the tried and true descriptive method of studying game-playing. Instead of formulating and defining the subject of study from the inside, I will try to select six funda mental characteristics of the subject and describe it from its

ex ternals.

Conventional definitions of game have petrified it

The first characteristic of the game is DRIVE, i.e., the necessary enjoyment that all participants in the game experience. This feeling is similar to the satisfactions of a sound sleep, a good meal, or a fulfilling love. The "drive" is rooted in the very depth of human nature. Namely, Homo Luden.f3 owes his existence to it. The game can't go on without this feeling: without the

motor of the "drive," players will simply leave the game and grow apart. " I feel bored," a little girl whines, before throwing away her doll. "What the hell do I need this game for?" says a young football player, spitting on the ground. "I

their co ffins," an old hockey fan gru mbles as h e

throws his beer bottle in the trash. The second characteristic of the game is COMPETITION, i.e., an opportunity to test each other's strength and dexterity, skills and talent, inventiveness and foresight. And, of course, the indispensable urge to win. (A game in which the rivals give in is as useless as a game with no reward.) There are three factors that clearly indicate the possibility of real game-playing- division into two teams, a challenge, and high stakes. The division must be balanced and intriguing, the challenge must be irresistible, and the stakes must

will see these b astards in

be as mouthwatering as possible. The energy of rivalry is a great engine. As it grows, it acquires the characteristics of an element. Of course, the game can threaten to m orph into open confro ntatio n with unpredictable consequences-simply speaking, it can

turn into a vulgar fight. A game turning into a figh t is a common, even typical

Primitive conflict destroys the game. First it is interrupted; th en it is

stopped. Wishing to save their baby from self-destruction, the players introduce



certain list of prohibitions and permissions to the rules of the game. The


echanism is specific to each particular game. And as the rules evolve through

the centuries, the game acquires a structure. The presence of STRUCTU RE is the third characteristic of any game. A system of strict rules that regulate and define the competition cements the identity of the game. The rulebook becomes the game's core, prolonging its presence in the world. T here are some solid attributes that clearly support the str uctural nature of game s: a chess board, a set of chess figures, a field divided in two parts with a net (as in volleyball and tennis); the soccer field bounded by netted gates and penalty spots. A pack of cards.

A chalk drawing on the asphalt for the classical game of klassiki.4



26 Slavic and East European Peiformance VoL 27, No. 1
26 Slavic and East European Peiformance VoL 27, No. 1

Bosch-like transparent ball with people inside it, created by a jump rope turned by two players whom you can see through your window. And so on and so forth. But these are external structures, so to speak. There must also be internal structures the impossibility of leaving the game before it is over, the ensemble of the team and the hierarchy of its players, the quantum behavior of the game; the queue of moves and preparation of tactical blocks. It may seem that in its historical development the game became more and more formalized, ossifying and losing a degree of freedom. But it is not quite so. Here is the great paradox of the game: the stricter and more numerous the rules, the more improvisational freedom it allows participants inside the rules. Structure gives the gift of freedom to a player.

The fourth characteristic of the game is RISK. The element of

risk gives an incomparable poignancy to the game. Flipping a coin, you are never sure what will turn out-heads or tails. Fortune can abandon a famous team of champions to total defeat at the hands of amateurs Risk and chance constantly renew the game. They make a game dynamic,


anything but simple.










ESCAPISM. Yes, three "runaways" and three "exits" always and necessarily characterize any game. 1. Exit from a real time to "timeless reality" (game time). One hour and a half of a soccer game, Christmas nights, whole weeks of Olympic Games-all these times, rounds, sets, and periods are excluded from the historical flow of time and are given the timelessness of the game only; 2. Exit to its own space. They occupy and confine a bigger or a smaller part of a real space in order to make it an autonomous space of a future game (game space). Circles of Round Dances, ovals of stadiums, squares of boxing rings, rectangular shapes of tennis courts, crocket playgrounds, children playgrounds and sand boxes-a ll these are examples of spaces occupied by the game and fenced off by it from the rest of the universe; 3. Exclusion from the social framework (from social relations, from social classes, from the hierarchy), liberation (temporarily) from all social obligations and creation of a new game team with its own social autonomous relationships. The game


becomes a total air vent (no mother, no father, no mentor, no everyday subordination, no chiefs, no limits, no slavery). But if the chiefs (parents) are accepted to the game, they are always humiliated

and subjugated. Notice how very important the relations of the gam e

are highlighted; games are a moderate carnival. T he game is disguised to be common. It is an "underground" carnival. And another important addition. It is a special escape. I t is not just an exit. It is exit and entrance; it is not just a retreat. It is retreat and approach. A child while playing a game sort of leaves, fences himself off from the world of adults, but also in a way comes closer to it, imitating the offcast world in his game. The participants of the adult gam e appear to leave the surrounding environment for a certain period of time. They leave usual and tedious limits, but they dive into an even more

strict system of the game. What lures and attracts them here? Just the same old democracy of the game: game's freedom, game's equality, game's fraternity. Getting down to the sixth characteristic of the game [SENSATION], to the last one on the list, and as it's usually said, it is far from being the least important one. I am hesitating and feel doubts. I have doubts for my ability to describe this characteristic. Moreover I have doubts that it is possible to describe it at all. However (putting it in b rackets), it is the most precise and simplest out of all the characteristics of the game. Many intangible and hardly explainable things can be discovered in the complex element of the game, if you look at it closely. They are in some way there but at the same time they are not. It does not matter how hard and precisely you will try to detect and define them. You will never succeed. But your confidence in their existence gets only stronger during the process of unsuccessful attempts One of such intangibilities is the thing that allows you to differentiate a good gam e from a bad game, i.e., a real, exciting, provocative, captivating one from a fake, cold, unexciting, and appalling one. How does one differentiate a game from a non-game? It happens that a usual, ordinary game is going to be more precisely a ritual of introduction. All rules and recommendations are followed. Familiar players in familiar unifor ms are r unning around the familiar field and create

one familiar combination after

But all of a sudden, something


Slavic and East European Perjomtance Vol. 27, No. 1

invisibly changes and we can immediately predict: it will be an outstanding game. No, it will not be-it already is. What we all feel, both players and the audience, is the unexplainable starting. The soccer goalkeeper begins to catch goals that were impossible tO catch. The hockey forward throws incredible goals. The happy audience gets to the point of unity And again I have to make a note. Here we are not trying to evaluate


finished game. We are not analyzing it based on its results. I am talking about


completely different thing. I am talking about the sensation of the game as


is felt by its participants while the game is unfolding, as if from inside. It is

not postfactum. It is a self-evaluation of the game.

It is quite easy to evaluate a game when it is over. The finished game

is unchangeable and constant. It can be described as many times as you want.

It is subject to analysis with no resistance. It is ready for any classifications,

comparisons, and oppositions. But I don't want to describe a butterfly by poking it with the needle and putting it under the glass of a pretty box. I want to understand it while it is flying in its capricious and fantastical soaring over the warm thicket of green nettle. It is much more complicated. We have the initial question again. What makes a game real? Maybe it

is true and there is some mystical spirit of the game-the presence of which

vivifies the game and the absence of which makes it die. Apparently there is something like this, something that invisibly appears and is easily destroyed, something that is fragile and ephemeraL A mood of the game? An atmosphere? If so, then what is this atmosphere? Is it the soul of game. Why does it appear or not appear? I used to think that this characteristic being searched for is somehow connected to these strange and scientifically inappropriate words-fragile, ephemeral, intangible- because despite the commonly accepted prejudice, the game is rough, colorful, and cruel only externally. Inside it is truly gentle and defenseless. It is built on the principle of a turtle: externally it is a hard and

rough shell, but inside it is tender and vulnerable flesh. I like this great metaphor very much: "the tender flesh of the game."



1 From M. M. Butkevich, K igrovomu teatru: liricheskii traktat (Moscow: GITIS, 2002). This excerpt was translated by Maxim Krivosheyev, with Helen Shaw.

2 The first two sections of Butkevich's work have been skipped: Section 1, "Children's Games of Directors" and Section 2, "Adult Games of Directors."- Trans.

3 Homo Ludens (Latin)-man as player. While Butkevich does not specifically reference Johan Huizinga's Homo Ludens in the text, there are definite parallels between both men's work.-Trans.

4 A Russian children's game similar to hopscotch.-Trans.


Slavic and East European Performance Vol. 27, No. 1



Seth Baumrin

In July 2006, I visited the Centre for Study of Jerzy Grotowski's Work and for Cultural and Theatrical Research, located in the Rynek, Wrodaw's center. 1 No longer the shell-shocked post-War Wrodaw of November 1964, when Grotowski moved from Opole, this bit of prime real estate retains a medieval appearance while also standing as a consumerist spectacle of contemporary capitalism. One example of this is a banner advertising Piast beer that hangs from the fourteenth-century town hall. Wrodaw, the capital of Lower Silesia, is a booming city. Renovation and public works are carried out rapidly according to strict timetables associated with municipal grants. Within this atmosphere, the intense work of Grotowski's extended artistic family continues. The Centre's administration (the fourth since 1989) pursues serious work at a high level against a backdrop of urban frivolity where narcissistic nightlife in second-story discos pulsates until dawn. The Centre, served by three entrances off Przejscie Zela:inicze, an alley bisecting the Rynek's center, buzzes energetically with the work of a young generation of artists. The Centre's directors, Jaroslaw Fret and Grzegorz Ziolkowski, have run the institution over the last three years and will continue for three more. Fret is the director of governance and administration; Ziolkowski is the program director, responsible for research, publications, and the archives. Duties connected to program activities, workshops, and collaborations are shared between the two men. Fret, a stage director in his prime, and Ziolkowski, a consummate scholar and theatre practitioner, are hard men to find, even in Wrodaw. When Fret is not working with his group, Teatr ZAR, he is giving workshops in Rome, Wales, or Brazil. And Ziolkowski-equally busy- is teaching at Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan or giving workshops in South Korea and in Wrodaw. When in their shared office, both work intensely with the staff, mostly graduate students in philology or cultural studies at Wrodaw University. Clearly the energy of Grotowski's Theatre Laboratorium inspires the younger generations at the Centre.


Founded initially to protect Grotowski's archives, the Centre like Grotowski's theatre receives support from the Wrodaw municipal governmen t. Effective administrators, Fret and Ziolkowski, successfully maintain strong ties with Kazimierz Grotowski Oerzy Grotowski's older brother) as well as with the Centre's board, which consists of Stanislaw Krotoski and Professors Janusz Degler, Jozef Kelera, Leszek Kolanlciewicz, and Zbigniew Osinski. The idea for the Centre was a matter of necessity for its first directors in 1989. The Theatre Laboratorium ceased its activities in 1982 with Grotowski's emigration; its dissolution became final in 1984. Wrodaw authorities were unsure what to do with Grotowski's documents. They asked Tadeusz Burzynski (a local journalist who died in 1998) and Professors Degler and K.elera of Wrodaw for advice. They suggested keeping the documents together in an archive to prevent them from being consigned to various university libraries. The archive was the modest beginning of the Centre. From 1985 until January 1987, when he died in a car crash, Theatre Laboratorium actor Zbigniew Cynkutis directed the D rugie Studio Wrodawskie (Second Wrodaw Studio), established on the former site of the Laboratorium.

Miroslaw Kocur, (now professor of cultural studies at Wrodaw University and author of books on Greek and Roman theatre) assumed leadership for the next two years. The Centre itself was formally established in 1989-1990 under the leadership of Zbigniew Osinski and Alina Obidniak, who directed the theatre at J elenia Gora and was later replaced by Stanislaw K.rotoski. When Kro tos ki and Osins ki retired in 2004, Fret and Ziolkowski took ove r. Despite their relative youth-thirty-three and thirty-four-they were well prepared for the job. Fret had already been connected with the Centre for nine years, and he chose Ziolkowski who had previously undertaken projects at the Centre. The new directors have organized m any events, such as the first

meeting of ISTA, Eugenio Barba's Internatio nal School of

Theatre Anthropology. Th eir Polish translation of Barba's Dictionary of Theatre

Eastern European

Anthropology has led ultimately to the development of a publishing house. But the Centre works on many levels. Primary concerns have been reorganization,

the building of staff, and the promotion of a new public profJ

younger generation. Ziolkowski and Fret are focused on the generation born in the 1990s, after the communist regime. Ziolkowski says:

Ie to speak to a


Slavic and East European Performance Vol. 27, No. 1

They have different experiences behind them than we did. In 1988, when I began my theatre education in Warsaw, I remember the Orange Alternative's happenings, student strikes, and our great hopes for political transformations. Now the younger generation faces unemployment problems and the opportunities offered by the EU. In a new Poland, a place like the Centre-in-between theatre and the academy-had to emerge. In rigid communist Poland, it was hard to imagine (though Grotowski with the Laboratorium paved the way for

combining an institute for research with theatre)

practice goes hand in glove with theory-this is what the young

generation needed and still needs.2

a place where

Fret and Ziolkowski have worked hard to transform the Centre. As part of this transformation, the Centre h as established a relationship with the Workcenter of Jerzy Grotowski and Thomas Richards in Pontedera that will commit the group, led by Richards and Mario Biagini who are Grotowski's legal heirs, to giving demonstrations and workshops in Wrodaw. Completion of building renovations within the time frames imposed by the local Wrodaw government is essential to assure future support. The Centre's transformation of Brzezinka (the eighteenth-century stable converted into the rural home of paratheatre in the 1970s) into a viable workcenter proves their commitment to renovation and has emboldened them to keep working) "We are renovating a new space: Grobla. Jarek's Big Baby," says

Zi6l kowski, refer ring to the project as Fret's special province.4 Grobla, a behemoth on Na Grobli (as the street is called) , is a four-story, dilapidated boating club on the banks of the Odra River, remaining from German occupation. Its enormous ballrooms and meeting halls are viable for conversion into theatrical space perfect for actor training, workshops, group housing, and performances. The transformed institute will incorporate three

sites: Przejscie Zelaznicze in th e Rynek; Brzezinka in

which is in-between- in the city, but outside its center. Each of these locations

will help facilitate three important areas of the Centre's development. The first is higher education. Grobla will develop into a deg ree- granting school by 2009-2010, primarily in the field of actor training.s The second is artistic production. Grobla will offer an umbrella structure of support for three groups- providing spaces, administrative support, and help

the forest; and Grobla,


in securing grants. The goal is to assist independent, non-commercial ensembles (i ncluding university groups) from rapidly changing Central and Eastern Europe, unknown in the West because they lack contacts and money to tour, as is often the case with Ukrainian, Serbian, and Russian contemporary groups. The Centre plans to house and promote such companies and co-produce some of the outstanding results. The third is publication. The school will promote further research and sponsor translation of scholarly writing on Grotowski into Polish and bring out Grotowski's writings in a critical edition including Towards a Poor Theatre. Zi6lkowski also proposes publishing Polish translations of the works of modern masters, such as Julian Beck and Tadashi Suzuki, and, pursuing collaborative ventures with Italian and English publishers, to give modern Polish theatre texts greater international exposure. Zi6lkowski contends, for example, that Juliusz Osterwa and Mieczyslaw Lirnanowski, founders of the Reduta Theatre, are little known in the West. Mickiewicz, Slowacki, Wyspianski have achieved some recognition, but deserve further, more extensive studies. Zi6lkowski argues that the Polish tradition of transformational theatre, as found in Mickiewicz, Wyspianski, and Grotowski, should be known in greater depth throughout the world. What the Institute can provide, he


establish an acting atelier for approximately eighteen to twenty people (from Poland and abroad). Students will immerse themselves in the Polish tradition.6 Fret's own Teatr ZAR serves as the model of a Polish theatre group dedicated to study while it also pursues performance research. Fret's administrative role is to report and make monetary appeals to the municipality of Wrodaw as well as to central governmental authorities. Fret must also go to the Centre's board for approval, not only with regard to programs, but also renovation projects. But his most exciting and challenging innovation has been to establish a role for performances at the Centre, since it was the founders' position that the Centre ought not present its own public performances but instead function eternally as a custodial headquarters and vault for activities associated with Grotowski's legac y. The current administration is committed to effecting change. The subtle changes already underway are probably best captured in a simple open window in the third floor workroom that faces Przejscie Zelaznicze. Przejscie

is a coherent program of Poli sh

stu die s. In 2008, the Centre will


Slavic and East European Peiformance Vol. 27, No.1

Zelainicze was the home of the famous performances of the sixties and the 1975 University of Research of a Theatre of Nations where now Fret's ZAR performs The Gospels of Childhood The piece takes as its point of departure Grotowski's Apoca!Jpsis cum Figuris. This window had remained closed since the founding of the archive, preserving, as it were, the status quo. Now open, it announces a shift from museum to living cultural organism. This new attitude is a significant departure from the founders' opposition to performance. In

[o]rganize its own theatrical or

paratheatrical practices."7

a program," which has been

exploring the same issues for four years.8 Whether it can be called a performance or not, ZAR marks a new beginning. By absorbing Grotowski's teachings and using them as a foundation for new work, a young generation of theatre artists invigorates his legacy: "ZAR was created as a permanent program of The Grotowski Centre. We are not a group like a little theatre or a company, and they are not employed like actors. It's a program all the same,

1989 Osinski averred, "The Centre will not

Fret calls

ZAR "an undertaking,

Centre will not Fret calls ZAR "an undertaking, J e r z y G r o

Jerzy Grotowski's Apoca!Jpsis cum Figuris


even if we keep the people with us. It's part of the research."9 On July 11, I attended Teatr ZAR's Gospels of Childhood at the Grotowski Centre, a work presented on occasion with no particular regularity. Ten actors (six men, four women) perform; the men sing Georgian religious music, while Martha and Mary (both in red) tell their biblical story in images through movement as well as song. Two women in black fill other roles. Gospels is lit by candles on three swinging chandeliers. A mound of black earth sits under a table. Many stories intersect; Martha and Mary visiting Christ's grave and Lazarus's resurrection are enacted in Slavonic ritual-sacred and profane. Never docs one central action dominate. Instead simultaneous actions unfold before the spectato rs. In one fragment, Martha and Mary on their way to the sepulcher re-enact the ritual washing of feet in a bucket that can be seen in filmed rehearsals of Apoca!Jpsis cum Figuris. Fret acknowledges this:

It is a quotation from Apoca!Jpsis. In Apoca!Jpsis you will see a different variation of this but the exact text of the sequence is a quotation from [Grotowski's] The Gospels, which never premiered openly; there was only one showing for invited guests. We as a generation know this only from a short film. It's Rena Mirecka and Maja Komorowska; and we understood, it is about Mary going to the grave; so it's very connected with our theme. And also I was very impressed by how the sequence is composed. So we decided to use this as a free quotation. Of course, we changed the climax of the sequence. tO

The stories of Christ's resurrection and Lazarus's rising are told, as they were in Apoca!Jpsis, through a combination of sacred and profane imagery. Some of the most compelling images in Gospels arc a woman lying down on a cross drawn in chalk o n the floor, feigning an epileptic fit, only to break out in derisive laughter when she draws the pity of Mary; Mary in childbirth; Martha raped; and a wedding procession in which the groom violates his bride. These images and others point to ZAR's frustration with the influence the Christian story plays in daily life. This is best expressed when M ary berates Martha, who is washing herself after the rape, for not helping at home but instead seeking out Christ on the road. His absence from their home, the sisters believe, caused their brother Lazarus's death. Immediately after Lazarus dies, Mary and


Slavic and East European Perjom1ance Vol. 27, No.1

The Gospels of Childhood, directed by Jaroslaw Fret, Teatr ZAR 37

The Gospels of Childhood, directed by Jaroslaw Fret, Teatr ZAR


Martha read from John 11:32, "If thou hadst been here, my brother had not died." This serves to capture a palpable frustration with Christian resurrection myths that resurfaces throughout the performance. At the end, a quotation from the Mount Athos Easter Song Christos aniesti intensifies this frustration:

"Let them be born for one childhood. For everyone will be salted with fire."ll The production ultimately proposes that humans are not redeemed; lives are not restored-forgiven yes, but never reborn. The songs and singers' constant presence enable the audience to focus easily on the entire performance, not merely one specific action but many. Near the end, the work continues over five minutes in perfect blackout, accompanied by powerful singing. In darkness the earth is dug up, as though Lazarus were rising. The audience hears singing and digging and smells earth in complete darkness. Fret asks timeless questions about human suffering. Whether Lazarus was saved or punished twice to suffer life's indignities again is important to ZAR's confrontation with death. Fret says:

People have often asked me to do it much more clearly, "Do it as it was." But I am making theatre, not a confession. It's not about interpretation; it's my understanding of things. I'm using this fragment (from Apocafypsis] to say something more important than

the death of Lazarus. It's about the death of my child

my small

child. It's not to tell the story of Jesus resurrected as it should be told, but what the story means to me after 2000 years of that story, after

the second death of Lazarus.12

Fret contends that Jesus' resurrection of Lazarus was a second punishment causing him to be dead twice without imparting any special knowledge for humanity.13 To make the mystery of death's permanence and the tragic, incongruous hope for rebirth (and therefore second death) tangible for the audience, Fret shut down the lights for quite some time, taking all visual imagery away from spectators' eyes, thus creating internal images strictly through song. "My image is that I'm standing on the edge of a grave, leaning and looking, simply as a child; it's not death but listening to the cantor singing the funeral song."14


Slavic and East European Peifomtance Vol. 27, No. 1

The conjunction of spirituality and blasphemy in Gospels of Childhood is part of Grotowski's legacy of "apotheosis and derision" of ritual and myth. 1 5 But Fret's focus on the human spirit evokes another, slightly older legacy: that of Juliusz Osterwa. "Osterwa used to say in some of his essays that God created the theatre for people for whom the church is not enough. If you are not fully engaged then your life will be empty. Your church cannot help you. You can find it in theatre."15 When I asked him whether he is part of any avant-garde, Fret says, "It is better, more interesting, to work with strong ancient structure, not to invent tools, but to see how this generation, in completely different circumstances-in Georgia, in Thessalonica-will work with it, live with it, survive with it." 16 Fret and Ziolkowski have shown that they have learned to live and survive with Grotowski's opus and legacy. As administrators, scholars, and artists they have made Grotowski our contemporary.


1 The Centre, since this article was written, has been renamed the Institute for Study of Jerzy Grotowski's Work and for Cultural and Theatrical Research in order to better reflect its commitment to education under the leadership of Jaroslaw Fret and Grzegorz Ziolkowski. The change officially took place at a ceremony on December 28,


2 Grzegorz Ziolkowski, interview with the author, July 11, 2006, Wrodaw.

3 According to administrator Magda M~dra, this transformation has aroused concern

among the previous generation of paratheatre practitioners, who scoff at the presence of electricity and running water, some saying it is now more like a hostel than the rough outpost in the forest it was for them.

4 Grzegorz Ziolkowski, interview with the author, July 11, 2006, Wrodaw.

5 The 2009-2010 plan for a school that collaborates with universities from the U.K.,

Italy, and Poland to establish a graduate program with guest professors for masters degrees in acting is unique because it is not in the Polish university tradition to offer

degrees for practical work.

6 "Mickiewicz is studied, but there are not many-a part from Daniel Gerould and Halina Filipowicz-who read his Lecture 16 at the College de France as a cornerstone of the Polish theatre tradition." Grzegorz Ziolkowski, interview with the author, July 11, 2006, Wrodaw.


Oirodek Badati

Tworczoici Jerzego

Grotowskiego i



1990-1999: The Centre for Stut!J of fe'"?J Grotowski's Work and for Cultural and Theatrical

Research, ed. Zbigniew Osinski, brochure (Wrodaw: The Center for Study of Jerzy Grotowski's Work, 2000), 24. 8Jaroslaw Fret, interview with the author, July 12, 2006, Wroclaw.

9 Ibid.

1 0 Ibid.

11 ZAR program, Wroclaw, July 2006.

12 Jaroslaw Fret, interview with the author, July 12, 2006, Wrodaw.

13 Ibid.

1 4 Ibid.

15 In 1961, critic Tadeusz claimed that in Dzia4:; (Forefathers' Eve) Grotowski had imposed a dialectic of "apotheosis and derision" on the original text. Grotowski adopted K udlinski's formula as a dramaturgical modus operandi for productions to come.


(Abcrystwyth: Black Mountain Press, 1999), 20.

16 Jaroslaw Fret, interview with the author, July 12,2006, Wroclaw.

17 Ibid.



Land of Ashes and Diamonds:

ll{y Apprenticeship in Poland


Laurence Senelick

With an expanding waistline and a weathercock mind, indolent, contradictory, and importunate, Mikhail Bakunin, the father of anarchism, is

an unlikely hero for a play about revolutionaries. Tom Stoppa r d's Th e Coast of

the vicissitudes of the lib eral Russian intelligen tsia from

1833 to 1868, in fact makes the more reasonable Aleksandr Herzen its protagonis t. But it is Bakunin and the life on his family estate that provides the lively center of attention in Vqyage, the first of Stoppard's three three-hour

dramas. I n their absence, attention flags. When the trilogy opened at London's Royal National Theatre in 2002, critics found Herzen to be dull and static in comparison, and his irrational collocutor Bakunin more dynamic and engagmg.

Moscow Art T heatre commissioned a translation from the

Utopia, which traces


brothers Neksey and Sergey Ostrovsky, assisted by Aleksan dr Popov, and sought out a Russian director. No one showed special interest. T he translation by three hands was found to require significant modification, and as time went on, the theatre's artistic director Oleg Tabakov lost patience. Expense aside, it was acknowledged that contemporary Russian audiences m ay have lost their interest in the history of left-wing thought. D espite Stoppard's desire to see his trilogy produced in Russia, the Art T heatre let its option lap se. I t was not until early 2007 that The Coast if Utopia opened at M oscow's National Youth Theatre.

This was not the first time the Moscow Art Theatre had considered and rejected a play about Bakunin. Not long before the October Revolution, it had seriously entertained the notion of a production of The Romantics by Drnitry Merezhkovsky. Literary reputations are as inconstant as stocks : they rise and fall at the least shift in the cultural climate. Merezhkovsky's rep utation, if p resented on a flow chart, would look like an Npine range. In the so-called Silver Age of Russian literature, he was regarded as a pundit and a prophet, although there were those who enjoyed pointing out his feet of clay. Acclaimed as a worthy successor to Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, he poured out a stream of essays, poems, and novels, which were widely read and discussed. His historical


fiction, The Romance of Leonardo da 1/lnci, even became a book-club selection in North America and could be found on the shelves of any suburbanite with pretensions to culture. After the Revolution, however, and his move to France, Merezhkovsky's pronouncements became more oracular and his prestige more tarnished. The verdicts of Prince Dmitry Mirsky in his English-language surveys of Russian literature tend to b e aphoristic and terse; in the case of Merezhkovsky, they are lethal as well. "Judged by religious standards, his writings are mere literature. Judged by literary standards, they are bad literature." After summing up like a hanging judge, Mirsky pronounces sentence: "If he had never tried to have any ideas, he might have developed into a good novelist for boys." 1 Less mordant but just as deadly was the opinion repeated by the Christian philosopher Nikolay Berdyaev in The Russian Idea; there Merezhkovsky is allowed "great literary talent," but his novels are "a mixture of ideology and archaeology." 2 If Merezhkovsky's importance to fiction could be dismissed so curtly, his relevance to the drama was barely acknowledged. His name does not even appear in the recent Cambridge History of Russian Theatre. Once again, it is Mirsky who weighs in with a damning judgment, calling Merezhkovsky's plays "formless masses of raw (so metim es badly understood, always wrongly interpreted) material, written from beginning to end in an intolerable, hysterical falsetto, and saturated ad nauseam with his artificial, homuncular 'religious' ideas."3 Before taking Mirsky's appraisal at face value, it is worth bearing in mind that he deeply disliked Chekhov's plays as well. Like many of his contemporaries, and definitely in the Russian tradition, Merezhkovsky regarded the theatre as a forum in which ideas could be disseminated to a large number of persons in a persuasive and graphic manner. Plays were to be vehicles for ideological positions, employing emotional devices to prepare the spectator for the message. Consequently, his dramatic efforts, which date mainly from the critical years of World War I and the eve of the Bolshevik Revolution, are millennia! reflections on the end of autocracy and the approach of a new age. Merezhkovsky's politics, however, are subordinate to his religious and messianic strain, and there is a vagueness in his approach, which dismayed contemporaries who preferred a more tendentious treatment.


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The essence and fate of the Russian intelligentsia was an abiding topic of interest for Merezhkovsky. Pursuing this theme and, in particular, the concept of the instinctual religiosity of the Russian intelligentsia, as a journalist and critic, he was to insert it into his article "The Boor to Come," the novel December 14, 1825 (The Decembrists), and the play Let There Be )I!Y (1916). His most explicit statement came in 1914 with his article, "The Testament of Belinsky. Religiosity and Social Conscience of the Russian Intelligentsia." He simultaneously began to plan a play about Mikhail Bakunin. Besides monographs on Belinsky, the play's chief historical source was Aleksandr Kornilov's The Ear!J Years of Mikhail Bakunin, from the History of Russian Romanticism, which had originally appeared as articles between 1909 and 1915. 4 Consequently, the title of Merezhkovsky's play became The Romantics.

Hoping to uncover the origins of the radical Russian intelligentsia, Merezhkovsky decided to concentrate on the domestic situation that prompted Mikhail Bakunin's rebelliousness, that is, his attempt to extricate his sister Varvara from her marriage. This view of young Bakunin came directly from Kornilov, who had written:

In rhis stuggle (to liberate Varvara) Varin'ka herself, devoting herself to it with all the passion of her forceful nature, grew weak at times- partly out of pity for her basically guiltless husband, partly reluctantly succumbing to the entreaties and wrath of her parents. And then with special passion Mikhail would come to her aid, expending a mass of energy, strength and time on this struggle, unstintingly, obviously considering that the achievement of total victory in this fight was indispensable not only for Varen'ka's happiness, but also for the triumph of those absolute principles of morality, which he considered at the time to be genuine. This entire struggle represents a remarkably clear and characteristic episode in the history of Russian Romanticism- a romanticism which even in Russia at the time engaged the minds of the progressive representatives of the younger generation of the 1830s and was an indubitable pretext for that struggle for complete emancipation of the human being, that "struggle for individuality," which began among us in the 1860s.5


Kornilov's book thus provided not only the kernel of the plot of Merezhkovsky's play, but also the manifold details, the characteristic domestic atmosphere, the relationship between parents and children, the method of spiritual self-improvement practiced by Mikhail and his sisters. Kornilov had made available for the first time materials preserved in the family archive, which enabled Merezhkovsky to insert specific biographical information into the play.

The structure of the play is conventional: four acts, set in the Russian provinces in 1838. It opens in the library at Pryamukhino, the estate of the K.ubanins (i.e., Bakunins) where the dysfunctional family is introduced to us:

Varen'ka has left her husband, the former uhlan, Dyakov, taking her son with her. She is deeply under the influence of her brother lVfikhail, and regards her marriage as an impediment to personal freedom. Mikhail swears his three sisters to a Masonic pact, a plot element which is not followed up. H e is also shown in conflict with his father, an autocratic serf owner who has no compunction at having his slaves flogged and who blames Mikhail for the earlier death of yet another sister. In Act Two, we move to a birch grove, where the youngest sister, eleven-year-old K.seniya, proclaims her wish to be a man and never to marry. (She still believes children are engendered by husband and wife chewing grass together.) A long tete-a-tete between Mikhail and Varen'ka suggests a mildly incestuous bond, although, again, Merezhkovsky does not follow up on this theme; she agrees to accompany him abroad. An interview with her husband Dyakov shows him to be a reasonable individual, willing to let his wife pursue her own fate. However, his father-in-law demands that Dyakov reclaim his son and thereby force Varen'ka to return to the conjugal hearth. Act Three takes place in an entrance hall of the estate, on a moonlit night, with the sisters singing and playing the harp. The elegaic mood is broken when Varen'ka discovers that her son has been abducted. There is a tempestuous scene between Mikhail and his parents, in which the father virtually announces, "Leave this house and never darken my door again." In the last act, we shift to a "large, uncomfortable room" in D yakov's manor house. Mikhail arrives and insists on a duel, even though he has never held a gun before. When Varen'ka confronts her husband, she finds she loves him so much for his tolerant understanding that she is eager to stay, but he insists that she take their son to Germany with Mikhail to find her independence.


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It should be clear that much of these fraught family jars might have a comic effect, especially since Varen'ka seems to change her mind at the drop

of a tirade. Merezhkovsky seems unaware that his portrayal of Bakunin, prone to temper tantrums and speechifying at inappropriate moments, comes across as romantic only in his excess. The playwright even quotes Belinsky's famous insulting letter in Act Four, which makes the subsequent challenge to a duel

more ridiculous. The play is episodic, largely composed of

Them es ar e raised and then dropped, matters such as the death of sister Lyubinka or the suicide of the flogged serf are left n ebulous, while, conversely, the particulars of the Varen'ka-Mikhail-Dyakov relationship become repetitive and tedious. What's worse, the audience is expected to be familiar wi th the anterior and posterior circumstances of the Bakunins. Oblique reference is made to Mikhail's mother's family, the Muravyovs, and we are supposed to know about their secre t society. We are also expected to know that Varen'ka would later be responsible for the death of her brother-in-law Nikolay Stankevich and that Kseniya would be loved by Belinsky. None of t his is mentioned in the play, leaving the characters somewhat flim sy and unmotivated. All plays in the Russian E mpire had to be submitted to a double censorship, one for publication and another for performance. T he author of

the d ramatic censor's report, the urbane theatre historian Baron Nikolay Drizen, licensed the play's performance:

two -person scenes.

But only after compliance with the standard stipulation regarding the gen eral appearance on stage of such characters as famous nihilists and o ther political opponents o f the government as were ear lier banned by the Chief Council and their exclusion. in addition, in the opinion of M. A. Tolstoy, Merezh kovsky's attitude to Bakunin is expressed with insufficient clarity. While indicating in some scenes Bakunin's comical zeal, the choice of words in his sermons, the insignificance and improbability of his actions, and even quoting Belinsky's Jetter defining him in a remarkably negative light-at the same time from the lips of Miten'ka, a drunken yet intelligent friend of the family, [the author] also seems to promote his efforts at rebellion and glorify his ability in the struggle for liberty, fraternity, equality. By deleting the relevant passages one might be somewhat

able to neutralize a production's ability to profit by this ambiguity to stage the play with an undesirable interpretation.6

Consequently, Merezhkovsky was required to delete Miten'ka lines in the final scene, which "underline a particular significance and the role of Bakunin." Once the censorship had provided its imprimatur, the Art Theatre of Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko and Konstantin Stanislavsky seriously contemplated sponsoring its premiere. Their relations with Merezhkovsky were somewhat uneasy. They had sat on his earlier play, Let There Be Jqy, for nearly a year, dubious of its stageworthiness, before Nemirovich-Danchenko agreed to supervise a production directed by two others. A remarkably complacent author, Merezhkovsky did not interfere in the staging and gave Nemirovich carte blanche to edit Let There Be jqy as necessary. In his letters, he explained that awareness of the censorship had prevented him from fully revealing the revolutionary aspect of the coed Katya, whose prototype was "the late fiancee of Egor Sazonov, the assassin of Plehve." 7 The author did not bother to attend the premiere of Let There BeJqy, but when he saw it, on its twenty-third performance in May 1916 (the production played thirty-eight times in all), he excitedly "lavished praise and thanks." He seemed to miss the fact that Nemirovich had put the accent not on the coed Katya's turning to revolution, "although not the old one, but a sort of new one-under the sign of religion," but instead emphasized her "great, complete, pure, virginal love" for the medical student Fyodor. The actors themselves were well aware that Nemirovich had "perverted the author," and that the performers, "indulging their own simplicity," failed to find "the standard nerve, which leads people sometimes to drama, maybe even to


By the time Merezhkovsky did see Let There Be joy, Nemirovich was in the Crimea, being treated for bronchitis, so that all of the author's gratitude fell upon Stanislavsky, who had taken no part in the production. Merezhkovsky was treated like a king at the Art Theatre, driven about in a motor car and fed tea and tarts in the intermissions, entertained at the homes of members of the board, given a backstage tour of the electrical system. As a result, the author became infatuated with the Art Theatre and naively wrote, "How dear Konst[antin] Serg[eevich] is. I fell in love with him after our brief meeting. It


Slavic and East European Performance Vol. 27, No. 1

is rare that brilliant people are so dear."9 Merezhkovsky's unconditional praise of Stanislavsky could only annoy the jealous Nernirovich. The Art Theatre had known about the project for the Bakunin play since 1915; in a letter of March 3, 1916, the author laid out a plan for a new recension of it, "Russian Romantics against the background of serfdom." When Merezhkovsky read the play to senior members of the Art Theatre, it fell flat, not only because he made no attempt at acting or explaining his concept, but also because Nemirovich was not there to give his usual pep talk. The actors showed little interest. Nevertheless, the play was formally presented to the theatre on May 17, 1916. Nernirovich had a personal agenda when he decided to direct The Romantics. He hoped that it would provide a "new link" in his collaboration with his partner-not that they would stage it collaboratively but, rather, that their methods might become closer and that discussions of Merezhkovsky's play might help to overcome "the picayune naturalism of Stanislavsky's experiments." The sincerity and simplicity of perezhivanie (living through, re- experience) would be directed "toward a heightening of feeling and ideas."10 These hopes would soon be blighted. Returning to Petrograd, Merezhkovsky set to work on an article about Let There BeJqy. In June, he came to Kislovodsk where Nemirovich was vacationing to read him the article and receive his blessing for its publication. No fewer than five meetings over tea took place between Nernirovich and Merezhkovsky, his wife the poet Zinaida Gippius, and the critic Dmitry Filosofov. At the first tea Merezhkovsky read his article. '~nd then came the arguments!" recorded Nemirovich. After a sleepless night when he "explained to himself" that the article was offensive, Nemirovich promised that the next night Merezhkovsky would be the one to sleep badly. At their next meeting, Nernirovich explained that it was impossible to publish the article because "it is full of all sort of untruths" and that he did not even want to reread it. Entitled "What Kind of Joy Will There Be," the article began with an unwelcome compliment to "Stanislavsky with the wise eyes of genius," who had had no association with the production of Let There Bejqy, and no mention of Nemirovich who had been in charge of it. However, Nernirovich's objections were not so much personal as ideological. While granting that Merezhkovsky's article had "great significance," he demurred that the author and the Art Theatre had dialectically opposite


views of the task of art. For all his gratitude to the Art Theatre, Merezhkovsky had written that after the events of 1905, which had undermined the ideological stance of the progressive ranks of Russian society, the theatre could not remain what it had been but had to "make a choice." What sort of choice? Why, between Anton Chekhov and the latest religio-philosophic trends, which offered a new program for the aims of Russian life, history, and the revolutionary movement. "In Chekhov's 'positivism' the intelligentsia's consciousness is incarnated to its artistic limits," the article stated. "But just here, in its lack of religiosity, Chekhov runs counter to all of great Russian literature from Lermontov and Gogo! to L. Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, insofar as it reflects national Rus sian elements, shot through with religiosi ty, 'in contact with the world to come.' To unite heaven and earth, man and God, time and eternity-such is the seal of Russian national religion for the most part."ll

Merezhkovsky then asks: what if the Art Theatre is nothing but the theatre of Chekhov? Or is it capable of overcoming the Chekhov in itself and moving in step with the times. " It is either/or: either art is religion or art serves religion," writes Merezhkovsky, rejecting the former option and extolling the latter.

Merezhkovsky, Gippius, and their circle had long deplored Chekhov as an agent of pessimism and anti-spirituality. 12 Nemirovich, Stanislavsky, and the whole Art Theatre, on the other hand, were staunch Chekhovians, reading Chekhov by their own lights. Art was indeed religion for them. The theatre that they had created was their religion. They might refer to the dangers of Chekhovian stereotypes in their performances, about the failure in attempting to stage dramatists of another stripe in a Chekhovian way, but they never rejected the Chekhovian world view and its ideals. How could they possibly accept Merezhkovsky and his creed into their "artistic monastery," where one had to "serve their god"? Nemirovich granted that even a defective script such as The Romantics could provide the occasion for productive work and be turned into a success for a season or two; but he was troubled by what he called "speculation in high- minded ideals." There was a troubling clisjunction between Merezhkovsky's lofty tenets and the working out of the play.


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He indulges in a special kind of speculation, not downright fraudulent, not crass, but attractive, ingenious. The author does have ideas, in fact there are lots of ideas about God, the necessity for Him, the "joy of destruction," but he does not find it necessary to experience them himself or suffer through them, but demands that the actors have experienced and suffered through them. He does not consider himself obliged to "infect" the actors. From his extensive reading, from his own religio-philosophic debates, he wants to demonstrate by means of the theatre his own current views and wants cosily, comfortably from his armchair, to issue commands:

Actors, suffer! Actors, belieYe in God!13

Nemirovich admitted the sincerity of Merezhkovsky's views and the talent evident in certain scenes, but pointed out that given Merezhkovsky's

embroiled situation with both the religious establishment and the revolutionary movement, the author was not content to be a mere artist but had to be a prophet, eager to exploit art for "his own social ends."

A pedagogue at heart, Nemirovich hoped to demonstrate that the

theatre was not a place for preachments and prophecies but for the joy of art.


serious theatre could rise "above the level of philistine entertainment" not


following tendentious ideologies, but by a simple appeal "to the best" in life.

Just as Merezhkovsky had confronted the Art Theatre with a choice, Nernirovich intended to pose him a question: would he "tread the natural path of art" and start "to write good plays" or would he move to another theatre? Nemirovich's plan was to invite the author to

two or three discussions of his play and all those questions fundamental to our concerns, which are attached. And then to invite him to start talking in a general way about his plays and his demands. This bit excites us, but that bit leaves us cold, and cold not because we are vulgarians, but because you yourself don't believe in what you preach. We wouldn't remain cold, even if you preached a lie, but you have to be passionately convinced of that lie, then we would believe

in it and follow you. This kind of talk would force him as an artist,

however eminent, to

do some rewriting. 1 4


Stanislavsky took a simpler approach; he hoped to steer Merezhkovsky toward his experimental studio, where the play could be reworked by young actors in rehearsal. Meanwhile, Nemirovich recommended a potential cast. The central role of Mikhail Bakunin would be entrusted to Leonid Leonidov, an actor of Jewish antecedents, who had created the parts of Lopakhin in The Cherry Orchard and Mitya Karamazov in the Art Theatre's dramatization of Dostoevsky's novel. In the event, Leonidov begged off the role since he was ill, alcoholic, and considering retirement from the stage. Bakunin's wavering sister Varen'ka was to be assigned to Nemirovich's favorite, Mariya Germanova, a beautiful young actress of tragic potential. For the part of the uhlan, he wanted the leading man Vasily Kachalov because the character is "the most intelligent and most sensitive person in the play. And the role is effective. And important in relation to the stage because his big scene ends the play." 1 5 The question as to whether the play would be staged at all was to be decided on August 27, when it would be read aloud to the company, and their opinions solicited. After the read-through and a discussion that lasted until 12:30 A.M., Nemirovich wrote to his wife:

Opinions differed. The majority, with Konst[antin] Serg[eevich] at their head, denigrated the play, calling it phoney, insignificant, irrelevant. The minority, with Vishnevsky, asserted that the play will have an enormous success and we should think twice, says he, before turning it down. The question remained open, although, since everyone admits that the leading role is badly written (Bakunin himself), obviously the question will be decided in the negative. I'm not sorry. 16

Nemirovich was fed up, in his words, with making silk purses out of sow's ears. That sentiment he did not express to Merezhkovsky, confining himself to the excuse that there was no actor suitable for the role of Mikhail Bakunin. Consequently, when The Romantics did open two months later (October 21, 1916), it was at the state-supported Imperial Alexandrinsky Theatre in Petrograd, in a production directed by the Art Theatre's inveterate antagonist Vsevolod Meyerhold. Merezhkovsky had particularly requested this director, who had just launched yet another of his periodic attacks on the Art


Slavic and East European Performance Vol. 27, No. 1

Theatre's penchant for naturalism. In a published interview, he had twitted the Moscow company for its failure with Merezhkovsky's Let There Be Jqy. According to Meyerhold, "a whole circle of Russian theatrical workers, subscribing to ideas of a new theatre devoutly to be wished, despise this nauseating naturalism."17 As if in reaction, Meyerhold, with the aid of his collaborator, the designer Aleksandr Golovin, drenched The Romantics in an appropriately lyrical evocation of the 1830s: elegant costumes, period hair styles, songs sung to harp accompaniment, bright blue moonlight streaming through windows. Meyerhold was well aware that the play was imperfect, marred chiefly by Merezhkovsky's characteristic fondness for antithesis. In the words of the play's most astute reviewer, Lyubov' Gurevich:

Mikhail Bakunin is the all-destroying flame of thought with a dearth of spontaneous feeling, the highest exaltation of a powerful mind, incarnate rebellion, and action; modest D yakov is a noble heart unawakened to consciousness, a man capable of the greatest sacrifice but incapable of catching fire from destructively creative ideas. 1 8

To modulate this blatant polarity, Meyerhold had recourse to one of Stanislavsky's techniques, to play against type and to point up the contradictions in a character. The Alexandrinsky's leading man, Yury Yur'ev, imbued the intellectual Bakunin with a player's passion, all the white-hot fervor of Ferdinand in Schiller's Love and Intrigue. In contrast, the sensitive but unintellectual Dyakov was assigned to Pavel Leshkov, an actor of cooler demeanor, who often played raisonneurs. 1 9 The casting thus obscured, indeed, reversed Merezhkovsky's careful ideological scheme, vitiating the play's basic conflict. As often happens, a clever director, eager to win over an audience and conceal a play's faults, had betrayed his author. Despite Meyerhold's best efforts, the play received a drubbing from the critics. The influential Aleksandr Kugel', editor of Theatre and Art, wh o wrote under the name "Homo Novus," damned it as "exceptionally boring and insipid." Kugel', a no-nonsense critic scornful of new-fangled literary and artistic movements, complained, ''What burned with a clear flame in Tolstoy, in Merezhkovsky takes on the character of a tangled, meandering, so to speak,


The salva tion of the world in a certain special,

Merezhkovskian, sense" is supposed to lie "in mysticism, love, etc."20

Significantly, these remarks appeared in an article which asked "When Will There Be a Play about the War?," condemning Merezhkovsky's choice of subject, as well as its treatment, as irrelevant to the times. Another critic, writing in the aesthetic journal Apollon, having hoped that Merezhkovsky would have brought a deeply national and intelligent play of subtle dialogue to the Alexandrinsky stage, was disappointed to find "no

more than an attempt at a domestic chronicle of the Bakunins

the absence of the charm of theatrical characterizations and the obscuring of

even the legend of Russian social. movements." 21 In the same issue, the theatrical historian Dolgov declared that Merezhkovsky had chosen the wrong incident for his play, presenting "pale shadows" of the poetic Bakunins preserved in the memories of their contemporaries.22 Surprisingly enough, one of the few positive reviews appeared in The Stock -exchange N ews, at the hands of Nikolay Slonimsky, who bought into

Merezhkovsky's message that the Romantics will ultimately prevail. "Their dream will flourish, for their will is strong and undivided. Here on earth they

shall create

a better land." It is not the Dyakovs with their "religious

idleness, eternal impotence of spirit, passivity in love," people of "dead ripples, faith without deeds" who "make history," but "the Romantics," whose

active will will "manifest itself."23 It is always dangerous for theatre historians to evaluate productions from reviews alone. The public was less ready than the literary world to fault Merezhkovsky's schematic construction and responded favorably to the material aspects of the production and the strong acting. Vladimir Telyakovsky, the administrator of the Imperial Theatres in St Petersburg, noted in his diary that the box office remained strong, the house packed with audiences who "listened attentively and there were lots of curtain calls for the actors who, one must admit, acquitted themselves with distinction and all

.There isn't much sense to the play, of course, and what the


author intended is hard to understand, but the play is entertaining.2 4 Telyakovsky's private evaluation, although offhand, was, nevertheless, accurate. Merezhkovsky had miscalculated by offering a historically precise time and setting, familiar to his audiences from the plays and novels of Turgenev and Goncharov. He had hoped thereby to use a typical landed estate and domestic situation to expand to a more metaphysical portrayal of an

This led to

exceptional case. He wanted to show how the Anarchist movement and its philosophy had grown out of a banal domestic squabble in a nest of gentry. Whereas Tom Stoppard, in The Coast of Utopia, was to provide a wider cultural context by using an epic structure, interweaving private and public affairs, Merezhkovsky allowed his concept to be hemmed in the conventions of a family drama. Merezhkovsky was no Chekhov, however, and his audiences could not see beyond the superficial aspects of the play. Furthermore, again unlike Chekhov, Merezhkovsky could not resist making his characters the spokesmen for his own reflections. He liberaJJy strewed the text with allusions tO his own articles, put in their mouths some of his own statements, and wove into the fabric of the work ideas which did not so much characterize his heroes as express their author's intentions. Prince Mirsky may have been right, after all.

NOTES 1 Prince D. S. Mirsky, Contunporary Russian Literature, 1881-1925 (London: George Routledge & Sons, 1926), 162.

2 Nicolas Berdiaev,

siecle, trans. H. Arjakovsky (Paris: Maison Marne, 1969), 232.

3 Mirsky, Contemporary Russian Literature, 162.

4 Kornilov's publication of materials from the copious Bakunin family archive was a treasure trove for the intelligentsia. See John Randolph, "'That Historical Family': the Bakunin Archive and the Intimate Theater of History of Imperial Russia, 1780- 1925," Russian Review 63 (October 2004): 574-593. See: 583, 588, 591-592.

L'idee nme. Problemes essmtiels de Ia pemee russe au X!xe et debut du-Xxe

5 A. A. Kornilov, Molotfyegotfy Mikhaila Bakunina. Iz istorii russkogo romantizma (Moscow:

M. and S. Shabashnikov, 1915), 325- 336. 6 Quoted in Drnitrij Merezhkovskij, Dramaturgija, ed. E. A. Andrushchenko (fomsk:

Volodej, 2000), 706-707.

7 Vyacheslav Plehve, the reactionary Minister of the Interior, who promoted anti- Semitic, anti-Armenian, and anti-labor policies, had been assassinated in 1904 by the Socialist Revolutionary Sazonov.

8 Quoted in 0. A. Radishcheva, Stanislavskij i Nemirovich-Danchenko: Istorija teatrai''!Jkh

otnoshenij, 1909- 1917 (Moscow: Artist. Rezhisser. Teatr, 1999), 263.

9 Ibid., 263- 264.

10 Ibid., 262.

11 Ibid.


12 See Laurence Senelick, "Chekhov's Drama, Maeterlinck, and the Russian Symbolists," in Chelehov's Great Plays, ed. J.P. Barricelli (New York University Press, 1981), 161-180. 13 Letter to Stanislavsky, August 8, 1916, Vl. I. Nernirovich-Danchenko, Tvorcheskoe nasledie. Tom vtorof Pis'ma 1908-1922 (Moscow: Moskovskij Khudozhestvennyj Teatr, 2003), 493.

14 Ibid., 493-494.

15 Ibid.

16 Letter to E. M. Nernirovich-Danchenko, August 28, 1916, in ibid., 501.

17 P. A., "V E. Mejerkhol'd," Teatr (1 March 1916).


(October 23, 1916), reprinted in full in Mqerkhol'd v russkoj teatral'noj kritike 1892-1918,

ed. N. V Pesochinskij et al. (Moscow: Artist. Rezhisser. Teatr, 1999), 330-333.

19 Meyerhold reported that in rehearsal the actors found joy in "living on stage" in this

play. To V V Safonov, November 5, 1916, in V E. Meierkhol'd, Perepiska 1896-1939 (Moscow: Iskusstvo, 1976), 185

20 A . R. Kugel', "Kogda budet p'esa o vojne?", Teatr i lskusstvo 44 (1916): 889-890 21 Vl. S. (Vladimir Nikolaevich Solov'ev), "Perrogradskie teatry," Apollon 9-10 (1916):


22N. Dolgov, "'Romantiki' v Aleksandrinskom teatr," Apollon 9-10 (1916): 93-94





'~eksandrinskij teatr.



Merezhkovskogo," Birzhevskie

vedomosti (November 28, 1916) .

24 "Iz dnevnikov V A. Teljakovskogo" (October 19, 23, 28, 1916), in Mqerkhol'd i



Slonimskij, "Svjatoj


'Romantiki' D. S.

drugie. Dokumen!J i materialy, ed.

0. M. Fel'dman (Moscow:



I., 2000),



Slavic and East European Performance Vol. 27, No. 1


Dasha Krijanskaia

The annual Varna Summer Festival was held between May 31 and June 11, 2006. With a population of 350,000, Varna is Bulgaria's third largest city and the biggest resort town on the Bulgarian Black Sea coast. Despite its still developing tourist infrastructure, Varna's population significantly increases during the summer period, and its growth is expected to boost ticket sales during the festival. Considered the country's biggest international theatre festival, Varna Summer grew out of a national festival that gradually integrated a number of foreign shows over the years. According to the festival booklet, the 2006 program consisted of thirty works that included seven foreign pieces, a couple of stage readings, and two discussions on play translation and stage interpretations of the classics. The program looked quite serious at first glance. Yet, despite the enormous efforts of Nikolay Yordanov, the festival executive director, and his team, 100,000 Euro proved hardly sufficient to make a respectable festival nowadays. The nicely printed booklet reached me only two days after the festival started; the foreign guests were lodged outside the city. More importantly, the festival provided no meeting space for informal communication, and such spaces prove tO be crucial for the success of any festival. Out of forty-one festival guests (of whom eleven were international)

I was able to meet only three, one in particular, a traveling professor from Izmir University, Turkey, appeared to be as dazed and confused as I was. Only

a festival newspaper published regularly in English helped us out with some information and commentary-a publication for which the festival team certainly deserves credit.










problem. It followed a familiar festival trend in its attempt to cover most of

the performing arts, including drama, dance, site-specific performance, and puppet theatre. It even offered a "concert happening" by the popular actor Hristo Mutafchiev together with musicians from the rock group BTR. Regrettably, a meager budget resulted in the lack of coherence; diversity became transformed into compromised selection and weak artistic credo. While the financial support coming from the two major sponsors-the


Ministry of Culture and the Varna Municipal Council-is definitely insufficient, international business in Bulgaria, according to Yordanov, is interested in supporting mass culture rather than artistic projects. These are the realities of global capitalism. Furthermore, the actual budget is not finalized until February, a date so late that the organizational process becomes a disaster. As a result, the international section seemed to be put together by various gatekeepers of official culture, such as the British Council of Bulgaria, the Japan Foundation, and the French Community Wallonie-Bruxelles, and presented a safe, small-scal.e, uncontroversial selection, X-Time Dress (by the Irene K. Company, Belgium, choreography by Irene Kalbush) turned out to be a middle-of-the-road piece of site-specific theatre full of dance cliches. The internationally acclaimed Seagull (from Kretakor Theatre, Hungary), a highlight of the festival, was too old to be a novelty. Kamelia Nikolova, Chair of the Theatre Studies Department at the Bulgarian National Academy for Theatre and Film, pronounced this year's international part of the festival to be "very good, ambitious, and adequate to what is presently shown in European theatre." I wonder whether it is possible to present adequately contemporary European theatre without the works of such artists as Luc Perceval, Alan Plate!, Frank Castorf, Thomas Ostermeier, Luc Bondi, Sasha Walz, Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, Simon McBurney, Garcia Rodrigues, Pippo Delbono, Lev Dodin, and Anatoly Vasiliev being included. The statement perhaps points to the absence of university travel grants and to other financial hardships in Bulgaria that make professional trips impossible and result in Bulgaria's cultural isolation. For the same reason, the exceptionally friendly Bulgarian spectators responded enthusiastically to each and every presentation of Western European art, and kept saying that they have never seen anything like it before. As for the Bulgarian shows, I found Bulgarian theatre to be quite conventional. After World War II, when Bulgaria became a political and ideological satellite of the USSR, Stanislavskian realism in its Soviet mode was imposed on Bulgarian theatre for ideological reasons. More than fifty percent of the mandatory Bulgarian repertory had to consist of Russian and Soviet plays, and the training system worked to reproduce the stale Soviet version of Stanislavsky's method. When the Soviet theatre slipped into stagnation in the mid-eighties, Bulgarian theatre shared the fate of its "big brother."


Slavic and East European Performance Vol. 27, No. 1

To increase the Soviet influence even further, quite a few Bulgarian directors and actors were trained in the theatre schools in Moscow and Kiev in the seventies and eighties. Among them, Mladen Kissilov, formerly a directing student of Anatoly Efros in Moscow and currently a professor of acting and directing at Carnegie Mellon, presents an exceptional case. His latest work, Raspluev's Merry Dqys, based on Alexander Sukhovo-Kobylin's trilogy, won this year's annual Bulgarian national awards for Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Supporting Actress, but regrettably it suffered a last minute cancellation during the festival. Contemporary Bulgarian theatre seems to replicate the style of an average Russian production-with the addition of Balkan vivacity and emotional openness. Whether it is a piece staged by the highly successful Alexander Morfov, currently an artistic director at the National Ivan Vazov Theatre, or the estab lished Marius Kourkinsky, a former actor at the same theatre, or the well-known Bina Haralampieva, the results share certain common characteristics. The aesthetic of these productions is heavily text- based; its major task is to bring forward a problem or an idea that could be verbalized; and it recognizes no rift between language and text, between word and meaning. Charac ter is conceived as a fixed entity, although there is differentiation between what are thought to be romantic, comic, and commedia dell'arte acting styles. The performances are customarily actor- oriented, and the acting styles feature dated antics or melodramatically exaggerated movements and line delivery. Except in the hands of a few directors such as Lev Dodin, Anatoly Vasiliev, Pyotr Fomenko, and Kama Ginkas, the Russian style has the same basic features. Due to this artistic kinship, Morfov works successfully in Moscow and Saint Petersburg where he elicits from the Petersburg actor Vladimir Bogdanov (in Moliere's Don Juan) and the Moscow star Alexander Kalyagin (in Jarry's Ubu Roz) the same kind of performance he does from his Bulgarian actors. Staged by Kourkinsky at the National Ivan Vazov Theatre, No Trifling with Love was meant to be a major asset of the festival. Celebrated by the Bulgarian critics, the production ran in Varna's main city theatre to full houses with audiences obviously enjoying the show. I found it an unwarranted attempt to turn Musset's ironic comedy into a full-scale overacted melodrama with some buffoonish elements. The acting was for the most part routine and the gestures exaggerated, the mise-en-scene was unimaginative, and the director's

artistic choices conventional. Musset's reflections on the dangers of overly sophisticated human game playing became transformed into a story of betrayed and unreciprocated feelings, with several clownish figures underscoring the major narrative. The endless power games played between men and women, the gap between signifier and signified, and the tyranny of language in the construction of reality were postmodern issues that did not even enter into the old-fashioned mindset in which the production was conceived. In the program, the director observed that today a human being hangs "in the middle of nothingness and loves only in his dreams. And for a second he is really capable of loving and this is the last hope alive. Do not trifle with this last hope." This focus on human emotions to be directly funneled from actors to audiences at all costs seems to me the source of what I would describe as a major shortcoming of Bulgarian theatre, and this emotive ostentation is apparently what Bulgarian audiences expect to experience at the National Theatre. Alexandra Vassileva, the winner of the 2006 Best Actress Award for her role as Camille in No Trifling with Love, displayed such a no- holds-barred temperament that it was embarrassing for me to watch. The production poster by Pavel Chervenkov was the best part of the show, while stage designer Nikola Toromanov didn't live up to his previously high standards. In earlier shows, such as the outstanding Three Sisters by Stoyan Kambarev (1998) and the Russian-Bulgarian Dr. Chekhov staged by Petersburg director Grigory Kozlov (2002), Toromanov designed spaces full of planes and parallels capable of rotating and relocating. Like 3D dynamic abstract paintings, these monochrome planes were entities in themselves; their moves indicated shifts in rhythms rather than changes in location. They were examples of what Una Chaudhuri and Elinor Fuchs in their book call "landscape theatre," which is preoccupied with the spatial-temporal relations between light, bodies, objects, and ideas rather than with the exclusive privileging of the human condition. In No Trifling with Love, Toromanov created a space in which a painted backdrop reproducing Da Vinci's Last Supper became the dominant element hanging over a long, empty dinner table. Given the prospect of a nunnery for Camille, and the themes of betrayal and quest for Absolute Love, the stage space provided allusions and allegorical motifs (including an ironic reference to Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code) in a descriptive manner instead of having an independent life that allowed for multiple interpretations.

In sum, if the plays selected for the festival were in fact representative enough, the current Bulgarian theatre does not live up to its own recent high achievement: The Three Sisters staged in 1998 by the late Stoyan Kambarev, 1 whose untimely death shortly thereafter was a great loss for contemporary Bulgarian theatre. Given the financial and artistic circumstances under which he has had to work, I can only applaud Nikolay Yordanov and his team for their zeal and commitment. The introduction of some changes in the format may, however, be worth considering. As of now, national performances enter the program in three categories: the selected Bulgarian performances, specially invited Bulgarian performances, and a parallel program. The parallel program is basically a fringe section, but the other two categories are strictly limited to drama theatre and are quite confusing. Selected Bulgarian performances section is inherited from the times o f the best national performance festival and is put together by a special programmer who is not a permanent member of the festival team. At the same time, the specially invited Bulgarian performances are selected by the festival team. Why not combine these two categories into one? Furthermore, why not make the international program focus on the performing arts of the geographical region instead of trying to fill the bill with something only randomly "international"? Capitalizing on the regional would provide Varna with a distinctive artistic mission while at the same time increasing the awareness of Bulgarian audiences. And finally, why not strengthen the international program with the works of Bulgarian emigre directors, such as Dirniter Gotscheff? A resident of Germany since his twenties, he was named Director of the Year in 2005 by Theater H eute and received the 2006 Berliner Theatertreffen award for his production of Chekhov's Ivanov at the Volksbiihne. To present his work to Bulgarian audiences could be a matter of pride for the next edition of the Varna Summer Festival.


1 For a discussion of the show, sec Dasha K.rijanskaia, "Dialog: Problemy dialoga,"

Toronto SlavicQuarter!J 9 (Summer 2004).





Cheryl Black

Four lost wars, international isolation and gangster economics have combined to make Belgrade especially cruel to the young people who have come of age during the 12 year reign of Miloscvic.2

Founded in Washington D.C. by Serbian emigres Zeljko and Natasha Djukic in 1995 and transplanted to Chicago in 1999, The Utopian Theatre Asylum (TUTA) has produced a diverse repertory of Eastern and Western European plays in its rwelve-year existence. TUTA attracts a small but passionately devoted audience and has garnered a critical reputation for productions that combine the highest caliber of artistic achievement with cogent social and cultural critique.3 In October 2006, TUTA presented the U.S. premiere of Tracks: Mqy God Look Upon Us, by award-winning playwright :Milena Markovic, who was recently identified as "one of the leading and certainly most interesting personalities in Serbian dramatic literature."4 Tracks, written during a summer residency at London's Royal Court Theatre in 2002, and subsequently produced in Serbia, Poland, and Germany, depicts in eleven brief vignettes a fragmented vision of coming of age in a war zone. Perceptively translated into contemporary American idiom by Duca Kne:levic,s unerringly directed by Zeljko Djukic, and sensitively and fearlessly performed by a young American cast, TUTA's Tracks illuminated a particular historical moment even as it transcended that particularity to comment profoundly on a broader human condition.6 The text is unmistakably grou nded in the thirty-rwo-year-old playwright's personal experience as part of the posrwar, post-Milosevic generation-a generation that spent its youth in the midst of political and cultural chaos and now, in early adulthood, faces the task of rebuilding national and personal identities. Specific cultural allusions are infrequent but distinctive: plum brandy, the Sava River, the exchange of a rapidly devaluing Serbian currency for German Deutschmarks, and the presence of a "Muslim bitch" as a hostage of war. Such references fix our attention on recent Balkan


Slavic and East European Performance Vol. 27, No. 1

Tracks: May God Look Upon Us, directed by Zeljko Djukic, The Utopian Theatre Asylum history,

Tracks: May God Look Upon Us, directed by Zeljko Djukic, The Utopian Theatre Asylum

history, and several moments have the graphic authenticity of newsreel footage, but abstract qualities present in the text and production, as well as significant omissions, serve to displace the action, transforming raw experience into poetry and moving this work closer to fable than fact. Among the most abstract elements of the text are the composite, archetypal characters that are not necessarily bound by conventions of psychological realism. A single actress (Alice Wedoff) portrays a variety of

female characters (a girl who commits suicide, a school psychologist, a prostitute, a hostage, and a nurse). This female persona is identified in the text as Buttonhole. (The Serbo-Croatian rupica literally translates as "little hole," i.e., a metonym identifying woman as, exclusively, her sex.) The character is never actually called Buttonhole in performance but is referred to as a bitch fourteen

times. (Women in general are referred

word slut is used five times, bal?Jdoll or doff four times,Jatso twice, cunt twice, and

to as bitches an additional five times.) The

kid and stupidgoose once. Buttonhole's first appearance, as a schoolgirl wearing a Marilyn Monroe T-shirt identifies her with the world's most famous icon of feminine sexuality, foreshadowing her perpetual objectification during the play. Sexual assault, or the threat of sexual assault, confronts Buttonhole in almost every scene. The treatment of male characters is a similarly pointed critique of gender and identity. Male characters are identified in the script as Idiot, Nasty, Hero, Cheery, Greasy, Natives, and Fishermen. Only Nasty and Cheery are, however, ever called by these names in performance. Male characters are also,

at various

chickenbrain, Neanderthals, and peasants. In a parallel to Buttonhole's evocation of an icon of pop culture femininity, an especially abusive male character sports

a Marlboro jacket, an emblem of idealized (American) masculinity. 7

times, referred to as sissie, dickhead, prick,

motherfucker, jarhead,

A through line of sorts

exists-Idio t, Nasty, Hero, and Buttonhole

lin e of sorts exists-Idio t, Nasty, Hero, and Buttonhole Tracks: Mqy God Look Upon Us,

Tracks: Mqy God Look Upon Us, directed by Zeljko Djukic, The Utopian Theatre Asylum

are characters whose personalities and relationships are established in the first scene (when they are school kids) and are picked up in later scenes. The through line is frequently broken, however, as characters exhibit personalities inconsistent with previous appearances. In this way, the play offers a range of possible life paths, futures, or "tracks" for these characters, given the circumstances in which fate has placed them. Within these fragmented storylines, Buttonhole's consistent desire for love and happiness emerges as a significant unifying thread through the piece, and the female archetype serves as the central character. Most of the male characters, by contrast, seem driven by competitive possessiveness, which the play offers as an elemental motivation for violence and war. Men kill each other because other men have taken "our bitch, our promenade, our gelato, our houses." Omitted from the text is any specific political reference or discussion of any particular, concrete circumstances leading to the Balkan war(s). The abstract, almost monochromatic scenic design (by Martin Andrew) is dominated by three towering, angled wall units, providing deep alleys for entrances and exits. Two set pieces with angled surfaces are located stage left and stage center. Everything is painted shades of gray; the bottom edges of the wall units look grungy, and the overall effect is of a rather grim urban cityscape. This environment served, with minimal alteration, as all locales required: a schoolyard, restaurant, school psychologist's office (suggested through traditional school desks), basketball court, bridge, bunker, lakeshore, and "Paradise" (indicated iconically through the addition of a swing). Simplicity of form as well as the grand scale of the wall units provided a vaguely classical atmosphere, and if one were so inclined, one might see the center set piece as an altar of sorts, introducing at least the possibility of God in this bleak universe. Violence of all types is ubiquitous here-ten of the eleven scenes include physical cruelty, from the brutal bullying of childhood to the wholesale rape, maiming, and murder of war. These snapshots of brutality are interrupted by musical interludes and other narrative interventions. (On several occasions, Djukic's cast breaks character and the fourth wall to play a quick game of basketball or "actor's tag.") Rather than lessening the emotional impact of what they interrupt, however, these interventions prevent our becoming inured and therefore desensitized to the violent imagery. In effect, they clear the emotional palate, allowing for maximum visceral impact for each


succeeding image. The production avoids wallowing in pathos; however, the scenes move so swiftly from moment to moment, and mood to mood, that we are forced to let go of one sensation to allow for the next. Moreover, an unmistakable sense of life's absurdity pervades the most horrific moments, enabling us to laugh, for example, at a man who will kill another because he is sitting by "his bush"-the one he squats behind to relieve himself. In this context, and in keeping with the play's themes, his possessive feelings toward "his bush" have sexual, as well as geopolitical, connotations. MarkoviC's text frequen tly suggests songs to introduce scenes, identifying Serbian as well as American options. Djukic and his multi-talented cast, that also constituted a band of five instruments (trumpet, bass, guitar, saxophone, and drums), created more fully imagined, live musical numbers that introduced, interrupted, or became in tegral parts of the action. Sometimes they served as expressionistic devices. Djukic begins the action with familiar childhood games of tag and keep-away, which segue into a song. MarkoviC's text suggests the Serbian children's song A Wo!f and a Sheep or an English approximation, Who~ Afraid of the Big Bad Wo!f, but Djukic's cast delivers an edgy No More Mon~s Jumpin' on the Bed, as if it were a primeval, protest song, beginning quietly but building to a confrontational in-your-face shout. Several musical numbers provide interesting counterpoints to the action. In a scene between H ero as teen hoodlum and Buttonhole as school therapist, his verbal assault-"go fuck yourself, you cunt" and Buttonhole's anguished scream are immediately followed by their rollicking duet of Let the

Good Times RolL

Come on baby let the good times roll. Come on baby let me thrill your soul. Come on baby let the good times roll. Roll all night long

Djukic prefaces a later scene of humiliation of Buttonhole with a pop culture anthem of female assertiveness, delivered by Wedoff in a punk roar:

You keep saying you've got something for me, something you call love, But confess, you've been messin'


Slavic and East European Peiformance Vol. 27, No. 1

Where you shouldn't have been a messin' And now someone else is gettin' all your best. These boots are made for walking, And that's just what they'll do. One of these days these boots are gonna walk all over you!

By scene four, the boys have reached draft age, and Nasty appears in army uniform at a seaside town with Buttonhole as a prostitute. Eventually the

Natives notice and resent the presence of the soldier, equating his possession of one of "their" women with territorial invasion: "You came here to walk our bitch on our promenade, to buy her o ur gela to, tomorrow you'll want more, and after that you'll move into our houses, m o therfucker, we won't let you."

go ho me, the Natives approach the soldier with a

knife, and the scene ends with his scream of pain. The next scene takes us directly to a battlefront shelter, where H ero lies on the floor, severely wounded. Nasty, wearing an eye patch (now we know how scene four ended), hauls in a "Muslim bitch," her hands tied behind her. Cheery, he explains, has rescued her from gang rape, ordering Nasty to take her to safety. When Nasty leaves, the wounded soldier and female hostage establish a kind of rapport, sharing common memories of volleyball, the Sava River, and a rock concert they both attended some year s previously. Interestingly, the concert was by The Stranglers, a British p unk group noted for violent and sexist material and anti-war themes. Buttonhole remembers, with pleasure, meeting a guy there and going home with him, but for Hero, this event too was marked by violence: "Some skinheads beat the crap out of me." Hero offers to kill her, sparing her a more brutal fate, but Buttonhole hangs onto a hope that "Maybe my guys will come!" When Hero questions her about Cheery, the light shifts, and Bu ttonhole moves up stage to join Cheery in a memory from her past, or a dream of the future, as Cheery promises, ''You call "

the band begins to play Sea of Love, and fro m the floor, the soldier begins to

sing "Come with me I My love I To the sea

In an expressionistic moment,

Yelling at the "bitch" to

me, and I'll come

and I'll protect you

" An explosion shatters this

hauntingly beautiful and painful vision, and Nasty runs back in with the news that he ha s accidentall y killed Ch ee r y. He t h en beats Hero int o

unconsciousness (or death?) by slamming his head repeatedly on the floor and turns to the girl with the omi nous threa t, "Now it's just you and me."

Tracks: Mqy God Look Upon Us, directed by Zeljko Djukic, The Utopian Theatre Asylum The

Tracks: Mqy God Look Upon Us, directed by Zeljko Djukic, The Utopian Theatre Asylum

The first postwar scene is a poignant metaphor for rebuilding and rehabilitation. Primary colors appear on stage for the fust time as Idiot and Nasty construct and paint a small house in bright shades of red, blue, and green for Nasty's daughter's pet cat. (fhe daughter is five and described as "almost a bitch.") This business is accompanied by the remaining cast singing the Stones' Paint It Black, which changes to REM's Losing MY Religion as Hero, alive but drug-addicted, enters. The men begin to bicker over the construction details, and in the confusion, Nasty spills brandy over the house. A devastated Idiot suddenly produces a hand grenade from his pocket, hugs Nasty to him, and pulls out the pin. The three men freeze. Instead of hearing the "explosion," we hear the last verse of Paint It Black:


Slavic and East European Performance Vol. 27, No. 1

I look inside myself and see my heart is black

I see my red door and I want it painted black Maybe then I'll fade away and not have to face the facts It's not easy facing up when your whole world is black

That lawlessness and violence that characterize even postwar life is

in the next scene, in which two fishermen use dynamite to catch


fish, carry guns "for ducks" without hunting licenses, and plan to break into an old man's houseboat to steal a kettle. Here Kne:ZeviC's translation moves beyond the literal "Why do we need a key?" to make a pop culture allusion with "We don't need no stinking key."8 Hero (recovering from grenade-inflicted wounds) and Buttonhole (now a nurse) are picnicking on the lake. In a rare gentle moment, Hero speaks hopefully of the future: "May God look upon us, both of us," and kisses her. But like the locals in the earlier scene with the soldier and the prostitute, the fishermen resent the presence of an outsider. They begin to harass the couple, exchanging insults until finally they pull out their weapons and move toward Hero. A gunshot is heard, and the girl turns toward the audience in a silent scream, an embodiment of Munch's painting. In the ftnal scene, Buttonhole, in a gauzy white dress, sits in a swing with Cheery, still in military fatigues, beside her. They are trapped in a Beckettian afterlife-inane grins frozen on their faces. After all the pain of living, heaven seems similarly disappointing. As they swing, the cast joins them for an aggressive version of Coin' to the Chapel. In this context, their defiant delivery of "we'll love until the end of time and we'll never be lonely any more," reveals the awesome ability of human beings to hope against hope, to keep struggling against whatever it is, including our own violent impulses that threaten to destroy our chances for love, happiness, and peace. Six months before the September 2000 elections that ousted Slobodan Milosevic from power, a student activist spoke to a London journalist of the toll taken by a decade of war, crime, sanctions, poverty, and fear: "We are all afraid of what is coming. But we are determined to fight. Now the only thing that is left in Pandora's box is hope."9 Perhaps, as Tracks suggests, that is all the human race has ever had, and perhaps, if God is merciful, that will be enough.


lThis analysis is based on my attendance at p erformances of Tracks on October 27 and 28, 2006, the Viaduct Theatre, Chicago, Illinois, the production text, photographs, and a DVD of the performance provided by Zeljko D jukic, and a telephone interview with Alice Wedoff, December 18, 2006. 2 Blaine Harden, "The l\lilosevic Generation," Ne1v York Times, August 30, 1999. 3 For more information on TUTA, see

4 Vladimir Stamenkovic, N!N, June 16, 2006, 5 I am grateful to Duca Kndevic for supplying me with excerpts from the Serbo-Croatian text, and for translations of any Serbian terms used in this essay.

6 T he ensemble cast included Alice We doff, Keith D. Gallagher, Andy Hager, D avid

M erritt, Adam Kalesperis, Kevin Viol, and Shaun Whi rley.

7 Costumes for this production were designed by Natasha Djukic.

8 T h e allusion is to the oft misquoted exchange from the 1948 film The Treasure of the Sierra Madre: "Badges!? We ain't got no badges. We don't need no badges! I don't have to show you any stinking badges!!" 9 Maggie O'Kane, "They Have Lost Everything Except Hope," London Guardian, March 14,2000. Accessed from LEXIS NEXIS, December 8, 2006.


Slavic and East European Performance Vol. 27, No. 1



Evelina Mendelevich

As I was settling down in my seat at Baruch Performing Arts Center's

Nagelberg Theater on October 16, 2006, I was startled by a very clear, only slightly trembling voice, saying very slowly, as if rep eating a lesson, "My name is Irina Krasovskaya. My husband was kidnapped and killed in 1999." l turned back and saw a fragile woma n addressing her neighbor. "There will be a play about me today," she added. There could hardly be a more apposite introduction to New York- Belarus: A Night of Free T heater, the first-ever U.S. reading of plays by a young Belarusian playwright, Andrei Kureichik, and the dramatists of the underground Belarusian Free Theater: Pavel Priazhko, Konstantin Steshik, Pavel Rassolko, Nikolai Khalezin, Natalia Koliada. The event was attended by nearly two hundred people, mostly American rather than emigre (Oleg Shafranov, Yury Koliada, and Dina Kupchanka translated the works from Russian, in which the plays we re written, for this event), and was co-produced by a New York-based playwright, director, and actor Aaron Landsman, who became interested in the Free Theater after reading an article about it in New York Times earlier that year. As the handout distributed at the entrance explained, the Free Theater's focus is "theatre that reacts to today's events" and "speaks the language of our time." And just as Irina K.rasovskaya shared her story with her neighbor-the same story she delivered in the White House and at the United Nations and probably hundreds of other times throughout the world- Belarusian playwrights reacted to events by bringing these stories to life: stories of political arrests and kidnappings, of individual clashes with the system, of everyday infringements of human rights. While they speak a language of dissent, a language that echoes Irina's loud and unambiguous

message, it is not political language, it is human language-

the language one

may hear in stores, on college campuses, in nightclubs, or at work. Belarus has a notorious reputation as Europe's last dictatorship. Since the country's president, Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, won the presidential elections in 1994, he has been accused not only of trampling on democracy




spreads well beyond politics: even if theatre and literature are not used as tools of propaganda, writers, playwrights, and directors are not allowed to challenge the idealized picture of a happy, united, healthy, and secure nation that successfully resists the constant threat of anarchy coming from the West-a picture Belarusian citizens are well familiar with from the government- controlled media. As a result, writers, actors, and companies seeking freedom of artistic expression-as opposed to following state-authorized standards- are forced underground, performing to carefully filtered audiences in bars, nightclubs, and private apartments without stage, decor, or advertisement, save for selective word of mouth, risking their jobs, their places in universities, and often their freedom. It was to promote work of such dramatists and actors that Natalia Koliada and Nikolai Khalezin started their project, Free Theater, in March of 2005. Tom Stoppard, one of the best-known supporters of the Free Theater (another is the former Czech president Vaclav Havel), opened the evening with his brief yet eloquent speech on the importance of freedom for art, as well as for people in general. He noted the ironic nature of the Belarusian Free Theater, as its members are "people who are free in their minds," but, unfortunately, not free to present their work to a larger Belarusian audience. Stoppard stated that he was proud to support these "young, gifted, brave people," who remind him of the struggling artists of Czechoslovakia, his country of origin, under the Soviet regime in the 1970s.

the arrests,




but also







and murders

political dissidents.



first reading presented was

a series





Belliwood, a play by Pavel Priazhko, Konstantin Steshik, and Pavel Rassolko, read by members of LAByrinth Theater Company and directed by Michelle Chivu. The play is comprised of a series of episodes from several plays and addresses, among other things, the search for identity and the difficulties accompanying it, given the disparity between reality and its representation in the Belarusian media. Characteristically for the Free Theater, one of the episodes presented this evening dealt with the issue of freedom through an ironical, almost absurd monologue on the master-slave relationship in the contemporary-shall we add Belarusian?- world. One of the play's most rebellious elements (which, however, American audiences are likely to miss) is its rich use of obscene expressions, unofficially banned from the official


Slavic and East E uropean Performance Vol. 27, No. 1

Belarusian stage with its familiar, inoffensive repertory, devoted mainly to canonical works. One of the distinguishing characteristics of underground theatre is that one is not expected to dress up for these performances. In fact, jeans appear to be the most common and welcome form of attire. At least that was my impression following the reading of the next play, Generation Jeans: Ode of the New Generation by Nikolai Khalezin, presented at the festival by the Naked Angles Theatre Company. The play is an extended autobiographical monologue on jeans-an "Ode to Western Jeans," really-presented by the Hero. It contains elements of Soviet stand-up comedy as the Hero recalls the hardships one had to go through and tricks one had to resort to in order to obtain real American jeans back in Soviet times. From the very beginning, jeans appear as a symbol of freedom-freedom from parental control, financial freedom, freedom from the old shibboleths. Humorous at the beginning, the play gradually shifts to a more serious and somber mood as the Hero gives an account of his arrests and mistreatment, followed by more stories of infamous arrests and less known assaults. The play is blatantly political and anti-Lukashenko: should Belarus ever have a revolution, it will be not red, not orange, not even velvet-it would most likely be called the denim (jeans) revolution after a famous incident when following the confiscation of the forbidden white-and-red national flag by the police, one of the protesters made an improvised flag from his denim shirt. Like GenerationJeans, Natalia Koliada's play Thry Saw Dreams, adapted

and directed by Paul Willis, is also based on real events. Irina K.rasovskaya, the actual prototype of one of the six heroines of the play, introduced the play

dedicated to her.

of "disappeared" oppositionists. In this play, the women prepare themselves to articulate their stories before foreign journalists and officials as part of their

current political struggle. Koliada's goal, however, is to present the struggle from a more intimate angle, voicing the troubled thoughts, shattered dreams, and inner pain of wives and mothers-personal concerns that had to be omitted from their public speeches which do not allow for intimate, emotional digressions. It is easy to forget, Koliada seems to remind us, that behind indefatigable public activists-a role these women are compelled to take of necessity-stand wives and mothers whose families have been crushed, who long for their lost husbands as they struggle to learn to live without their love

Thry Saw Dreams is about six women, four of whom are wives


The Saw Dreams, adapted and directed by Paul Willis, Culture Project's IMPACf Festival 2006 and

The Saw Dreams, adapted and directed by Paul Willis, Culture Project's IMPACf Festival 2006

and support, and without a sense of security for themselves, for their children, for their friends, and for their people. Andrei Kureichik's Sk;y/Nikita Mitskevich, directed by Cynthia Croot and translated by Dina Kupchanka, was the final play presented at the festival. Excerpts from the play were read by members of the Tinderbox Theater. Kureichik is a well-known contemporary Belarusian playwright and is the recipient of a number of prestigious awards, including Russia's Best Contemporary Play of 2002 Award for his play Piedmont Beast. The central character, Nikita Mitzkevich, also acts as its narrator. The action of the play is occasionally interrupted by his remarks, during which the rest of the actors freeze, forming a living picture. In the short opening monologue, Nikita addresses the audience directly, expressing, ironically, his disdain for "open theatre" in which actors interact with audience directly. But then, he remarks, it is a special peculiarity of the Belarusian mentality that one often does precisely the opposite of what one wants to do. The same trait is found in the other plays presented at the festival: the heroines of Koliada's play don't want


Slavic and East European Peiformance Vol. 27, No. 1

to become public activists yet have no choice; the Hero of Khalezin's play hates politics yet finds himself involved in it-a conflict, it seems, characteristic of underground Belarusian theatre, which doesn't necessarily want to be political, but can't avoid it under the present circumstances. Kureichik's play, however, offers much more than a political message. It is lively, often funny, and always engaging. Its language ranges from street obscenities and modern slang to lofty poetry declaimed with pathos by the tragicomical romantic Oleg. The play's dialogical structure makes it easier to digest the bitter truth of cotemporary Belarusian reality. In arguing against today's oppressive regime, Kureichik employs reductio ad absurdum as his dramaturgical method. In the opening of the play, Nikita earnestly believes that one's freedom is entirely in one's own hands and sets out to prove this by establishing his own free-art club, which, after a lively, entertaining debate, the group agrees to name Sky. While he is finally able to overcome bureaucratic obstacles with the help of his friend's bigwig parents, Nikita is too principled to survive in the corrupt Belarusian system. He is by no means an idealized young hero-he drinks, smokes marijuana, curses, and eventually opens the doors of his club to drug dealers; however his shortcomings only strengthen the play's major theme-the absurdity of the system-for at the end of the play Nikita is arrested and jailed not for "all the unlawful activities, for which (he] definitely should have gone to jail" but for "honest entrepreneurs hip," as he refused to succumb to semi-official racketeering. The play is dissident not only because it is anti-dictatorship, but also because it presents a picture of Belarusian youth that the government carefully conceals-youths drinking, throwing up, cursing, having sex in public places, doing drugs, and committing suicide.

It was rather interesting to see Kureichik's play and work by Free Theater as parts of one event. Initially working together with the Free Theater, Kureichik is no longer associated with this company, apparently scorning its preoccupation with political art. By focusing not on political activists, but on ordinary young people with ordinary dreams, desires, virtues, and foibles, who nevertheless become political refugees and political prisoners, Sli;y/Nikita Mitskevich only confirms the harsh reality of Lukashenko's regime: no matter how hard one tries to remain above politics, no matter how much one detests and despises it, one cannot escape it if one wishes to be free-free in a very basic, human sense.


S/::;y/Nikita Mitskevich, directed by Cynthia Croot, Culture Project's IMPACT Festival 2006 The Night of Free

S/::;y/Nikita Mitskevich, directed by Cynthia Croot,

Culture Project's IMPACT Festival 2006

The Night of Free Theater in New York (and it was free in every sense of the wo rd!) was a very successful event. Free things always come as a pleasant surprise, and I was surprised to find myself enjoying the readings o f the play as much as I enjoy good fully staged performances. A number of factors have contributed to bringing this reading close to the level of a full production, not the least of which has to do with the special circumstances surrounding the staging of such plays in Belarus. Since private apartments, bars, and other nontraditional locations do not allow for elaborate stage decorations, the plays rely entirely on the actors for their ultimate effect. Hence, it seems, a framework of storytelling is characteristic of these underground plays. It creates, among other things, an alternative to other

stories-the ones

And I am happy to note that the actors of LAByrinth, Naked Angels, and Tinderbox Theater Companies presented these stories as if they were their own, feeling (it seemed) and living every word of them-so much so that one

told by differen t actors and on a different- political-s tage.

forgot that the original voices spoke in a different language. But then, perhaps, freedom has its own language--one that is not los t in translation. As I left the auditorium and made my way to the subway through the large, fetid garbage bags aligned along the narrow Manhattan street, I felt a pang inside: I miss Minsk with its clean streets, the fairytale-like facades of the old city, the marble walls of the metro, and most of all, the beautiful people who live there. I know these people well. For them, I know, it is not about revolution, not even so much about democracy or human rights, really. It is about basic human needs and desires-to have loved ones near, to earn an honest living without the feeling of committing a crime, to know who you are, and to be able to tell your own story.




Nicholas Rzhevsky

Death marks Yury Lyubimov's recent productions at the Taganka Theatre, including most notably the trilogy starting with Before andAfter and Go

and Stop the Progress and concluding with Souf(f)le. 1 The title, Souf(f)le, takes

advantage of the French meanings of souffle, souffle, and souffleur in various

Russian denotation s. Souffle as omelet, incorp orates a familiar reference among

Russ ian

and recipes that make up stage practice, as well as marking the m any and varied ingredients that are combined in the adaptation. A recipe fo r one omelet noted in the program, in which the prime ingredient is brains, suggests the painful

contribution to the socialist diet of

out of a cookbook published the year of Stalin's death. T he sense of hard

breathing de fine s the youn g cast's response to the sometimes impossible pace

set by Lyu bimov,

gives to words, dead space, and inanimate objects. Beckett's Malone suggests

this brief span of theatrical existence: "D ecidedly it will never have been given to me to finish anything, except perhaps breathing. One must not be greedy." Finally, sufler, the Russian borrowing from the F rench for "prompter,"

reinforced by Lyubimov's recorded voice-overs beginning an d ending the

evening, alerts the audience to the controlling imagination that reminds the actors with texts. As in the two preceding productions, Lyubimov, aided by the uncredited choreographer, Andrei Melanin, created a precise score of movements for his cast that would have done justice to a good small ballet company. Altho ugh there were solo numbers, the overall impression was choral, reinforced by the program designation of the actors, listed in

alphabetical order without attribution of roles, as "The Team." The cast members alterna ted suits and street clothes with white hospi tal gowns, reminiscent of shrouds. Their uniform movement to Vladimir Martynov's

musical score allowed no emotional

texts they spoke, chanted, or sang. The individuality of the production was concentrated in the director's shaping imagination, and the cast's sacrifice of

stage professionals to the "th eatrical kitchen" tha t coo ks up the tricks

the theatre's

own political past and is take n

but also sugges ts the momen tary breath o f life that theatre

o r interpersonal develo pment beyond the


Slavic and East European Peiformance Vol. 27, No. 1

Souf(j)le, directed by Yury Lyubimov, at the Taganka Theatre personal identity went hand in hand

Souf(j)le, directed by Yury Lyubimov, at the Taganka Theatre

personal identity went hand in hand with the themes of dehumanization Lyubimov found in the texts of Nietzsche, Beckett, and Kafka. Vladimir Kovalchuk's stage design (qualified as the director's idea in the program) consisted entirely of three large stands that could be taken for bus stops with walls that were decorated by a motley assortment of signs, notices, and advertisements. These were the written detritus of commercial popular culture, but without referents and marking the absence of human conjunctions. In the course of the evening, the walls would be transformed from the bus stop, to a bureaucratic labyrinth, to a hospital ward, and to doors and windows open to all possibilities. Unexpectedly, the ads and signs also included snatches of philosophical texts taken up and read by Lyubimov's actors. They introduced the major texts developed later: Kafka's The Trial, Beckett's Malone Dies, Nietzsche's Gqy Science, and bits and pieces of James Joyce. The main ingredients of the production were taken from Kafka and Beckett, while Nietzsche and Joyce provided intellectual garnish. The authors were honored, in typical Taganka fashion, through their portraits, which appeared and


disappeared on the stage sides throughout the evening. Kafka's novel struck the note of contemporary import for which the old Taganka was famous; critics reacted with glee to the possibilities of interpreting Joseph K's arrest and legal nightmare as a commentary on the incarceration of the Yukos executive, Mikhail K.hodorovsky.2 Ultimately, however, political interpretations of the adaptation were as short-sighted as political interpretations of Kafka himself. For Lyubimov, the theatrical transformation of Joseph K. touched on Khodorovsky's fate only as a casual reference to contemporary oppression but, at the core, dealt with the themes of fate and death themselves, noted somewhere at the middle of the performance by the aphorism: "Old age steps into the last battle with God and always loses." The quote applied equally to Joseph K, as played by Vladimir Cherniaev, as to Lyubimov. The Trial's pathos, as the Taganka took care to indicate through the actor's skillful performance of helplessness and the gleam of futility in his eyes and movement, lay not merely in the absurdities of social repression or of excessive bureaucracy, but evoked the doomed human condition in its inevitable confrontation with mortality.3 Malone Dies continued the aesthetic game with death at its most personal level. Feliks Antipov played Beckett's definitive modernist creation of alienated individualism, attempting to find meaning through withdrawal into the self. His performance consisted of an extended internal monologue, provided by a marionette temporarily coming to life and threatening to withdraw into non-being at any moment. In a stream of consciousness tour de force, Malone/Antipov, as Man Alone, rebelled against the inevitable by turning inward to chance snatches of memory, rage before death, and frustrated impotence. Antipov also led the chorus in establishing the strong rhythm of the production, punctuated by Mart:ynov's quotations of Wagner and Mahler. The chorus's major props were folding chairs, used as large castanets to bang out the march of inevitability when opened and closed, and to create various structures, including the shape of a cross to mark Malone's passing. With a slight shift of the angle at which the chairs were held, the chairs were transformed from the image of a cross to a clock, as the actors oscillated in an inevitable tick-tock rhythm. Although not included in the program acknowledgements, Ionesco undoubtedly figured in this particular reference to the theatre of the absurd.


Slavic and East European Performance Vol. 27, No.1

Souf(f)le, directed by Yury Lyubimov, at the Taganka Theatre, with FeW<s Antipov as Beckett's Malone

Souf(f)le, directed by Yury Lyubimov, at the Taganka Theatre, with FeW<s Antipov as Beckett's Malone

The play concluded with a balancing act-metaphor and fulfillment of the theatrical process but also more. It was performed by a young actress playing a violin and signaling the play and life of art in the face of death. Her journey began from behind Nietzsche's portrait. It opened and she carefully stepped out onto a narrow beam, which she crossed to the sound of music that she created, but also accompanied by Lyubimov's recorded voice: "The will was opened. Nothing-to no one." Once again, the director confronted God's mortality along with his own, and in the face of cynicism and disbelief asserted the agency of art and its capacity to create in the face of the void. In flouting death as he approached his ninth decade, Lyubimov's work at the Taganka also refused to accept the preeminence of the historical moment. Obvious targets for theatrical response-the continued sway of


criminals in the economy and government, the inability of the Putin government to deal with terrorism in Chechnya and other regions of the country, the ominous notes of authoritarian rule that began to sound again- were neglected or downplayed in favor of basic issues the theatre found in the writers of the two earlier parts of the trilogy. The seeming breakdown in form, in favor of an apparent postmodern fragmentation and collage without obvious patterns, did not so much reflect a sense of the present historical disorder as assert the right of theatre to make its own choices and to shape history in its own forms. The strong urge to proclaim this commitment to art originated in Lyubimov's long-standing sense of authorship. The author-director responded to his reality in terms of the great literary interpretations of modernity-as disjointed, irrational, dehumanizing, and rich in meaning beyond ordinary perspectives and reductive definitions. Lyubimov's use of the texts in the unabashed immediacy with which they entered his conscience and prodded his imagination ultimately asserted the shaping power of individual aesthetic vision-thus also the portraits that the Taganka honored-even in its greatest confrontations with chaos and death. In the respect he paid authors neglected by or entirely unknown to Russians, Lyubimov insisted on the rights of his own views and art. Through this highly personal sense of literature, the director attempted nothing less and nothing more than changing the course of Russian culture, by bringing to life the texts that are missing in its retarded development under communism. The Taganka thumbed its nose at historical contingency and the postmodern sensibility that imagined art without due recognition of the central role played by the aesthetic self in our perception of things. Approaching mortality, Lyubimov withdrew inward in the way he best knew how, through the public space of stage performance which he used to assert the particular, aesthetic meaning of his life. The act of introversion in the proximity of death made moot all considerations of audience or critical response, of his actors' own realities, of proper form and decorum, or of his country's sad social-political state. Yet Lyubimov knew his confrontation with mortality ultimately to be the product-honed by him and transfigured into a personal reality, but nevertheless very much the product-of the wonderfully fecund theatrical tradition of which he was part. In Befo re and After, the performers jumped out of Malevich's Black Square (that served as the setting)

as the Harlequins and Columbines of t he commedia dell'arte, and then at the finale they passed back into it as Russia's poets. With them, the Taganka returned to the starting point of the century with the first important literary- theatrical collaboration in Blok and Meyerhold's Balaganchik (The Fairground Booth). There was no irony or representational distance in these performative acts; there was only the stage's immediate assertion of literature as theatrical reality.


1 The official premiere of the first part of the trilogy, Before andAfter, a collage o f texts by twenty-three Russian writers, mainly of the Silver Age, was October 2003, although the adaptation was performed in preview in April o f that year. The second, Co and Stop the Progresr (Oberiu), based on the works of Vvedensky Kharm s, Zabolotsky,

Kruchonykh, and Oleinikov, premiered April 23, 2004.

Sot~f(j)le. A Free FanltJ!] on the

Theme of Works !ry F. Niefi!che, F Kafka, S. Beckett, j jqyce, premiered April 23, 2005. 2 Among the most vocal: Valeria N ovodvorskaya, "Taganskii nabat," Novqye vremia, No. 22 (2005).

3 To the question given to him by a correspondent of Argumenry i Jakry, on whether

he wa s optimistic

about Russia's future , Lyubimov answered:

''At my age that's n ot

what one should


and you speak

o f







thinking. I wiU be eighty-eight years old, preparing myself fo r the other world. If

I was thinking o f

something else, I would be a complete fool." Arg11menry i Jakry, 24 (1285), June 15,




Maria Ignatieva

Rimas Tuminas comes to Moscow quite often. He does not feel that working with Russians compromises his dignity as a Lithuanian director, an attitude unfortunately characteristic of some other theatre practitioners from the former Soviet republics after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the liberation of their countries. Tuminas does not regard all Russians as Soviets, nor does he blame his colleagues for having been part of the U.S.S.R.; neither he nor they had a choice. He knows that the great theatre culture of Russia has survived the political turmoil and that Russian theatergoers are eager to see his productions-both old and new. In the summer of 2006, when many people were on vacation abroad or at their dachas, Tuminas brought to Moscow for a ten-day tour the State Small Theatre of Vilnius, of which he is the artistic director. They performed at the Mayakovsky Theatre, playing in Lithuanian with simultaneous Russian translation through car phones, and the tickets, although very expensive for Russians (twelve to fifteen dollars for the galleries and up to sixty dollars for the parterre), were sold out in a day. Turninas's repertory in Moscow included Lermontov's Masquerade, Chekhov's Cherry Orchard and Three Sisters, Becket's Waitingfor Godot, and the contemporary comic drama Madagascar by Marius Ivaskevicius. Although all the abovementioned productions bear Tuminas's unique artistic signature, I chose to write about his Three Sisters as the most original and fresh interpretation of the play that Moscow has seen in years. In 1978 at the age of twenty-six, Rimas Tuminas graduated from GITIS (the Russian Academy of Dramatic Arts) as a director. Since Stanislavsky, the profession of director has been the most respected in Russian theatre; since Meyerhold and Vakhtangov, the director has acquired the right to express his/her personal vision and supremacy over dramatic texts. This concept of the director has had great influence on Tuminas. In the late seventies and early eighties, GITIS was the center and the citadel of Russian theatre. Tuminas's youth and coming of age coincided with the times of the last giants of twentieth-century Russian Theatre. The best directors, actors, theatre historians, and critics of the time taught at GITIS, among them were Maria Knebel, Pavel Markov, Boris Alpers, Anatoly Efros,

Three Sisters, directed by Rim as Tuminas and Andrey Goncharov. Thus such names as Stanislavsky,

Three Sisters, directed by Rimas Tuminas

and Andrey Goncharov. Thus such names as Stanislavsky, Meyerhold, Vakhtangov, and Tairov were still remembered as once-living elder contemporaries and not merely as legends from books. These great teachers surrounded the students, teaching them as much in the corridors of GITIS as during lectures, in the Moscow theatres as well as at late-night gatherings over a cup of coffee or a bottle of vodka. Although Soviet rhetoric was used in GITIS, it was not believed in, and the great theatre fraternity above and beyond official ideology was fir mly esta blished there once and for all. Nostalgia for that time would forever touch everyone who lived through those days when poverty coexisted with the richness of cultural discoveries, and the invisible presence of the KGB with unlimited freedom of ideas. That was the atmosphere in which Tuminas came of age, as a director and as a man, an atmosphere akin to that described by Milan Kundera as "the unbearable lightness of being."

from Vilnius, which was always

acknowledged by the Russian inteUigentsia as a European city, Tuminas found





himself at the center of international theatre culture, a center located behind the Iron Curtain. Since the fifties, Bertolt Brecht, Peter Brook, Ingmar Bergman, and Andrzjei Wajda used to "drop by" in Moscow with their shows and seminars presented at the VTO (All-Russia Thea tre Society). Now, in turn, at the age of fifty-four, Tuminas comes to Moscow as a renowned European director.

Three Sisters has a symbolic meaning for the State Small Drama Theatre of Vilnius. The company just moved into a new theatre building; the younger actors, Tuminas' former and current students, have become part of the troupe. In these very happy times of his final acquisition of a home for his theatre, which also coincides with the peak of his career and international fame, Tuminas directs a show abou t the loss of a home and about lost souls. At the end of his Three Sisters, with its three young, beautiful, and desperate heroines on stage, only the most composed spectators do not cry. The show, which at no point is ever the least bit sentimental, moves one to the depths of one's soul, and appeals to the most secret passages of one's memories. Tuminas wrote:

I have a feeling that Chekhov throughout his life was guided by his childhood, by the light of that childhood. Childhood has a glow because it holds a feeling of safety. You feel safe because you are surrounded by your own people, by relatives. As the family diminishes, you start losing that safety. I am fascinated with the vanished.l

Is this true of Chekhov? We know that Chekhov had a very troubled and unhappy childhood and that he was beaten by his father and finally abandoned by his whole family in Taganrog. Sentiment is not a characteristic of Chekhov's portrayals of babies and children in his stories and plays, and he was not nostalgic for his childhood. In Three Sisters, for example, Natasha uses her two babies Bobik and Sofochka in her campaign to drive the sisters out of their house. So it was not his childhood that Chekhov missed, but rather his lost youth. Chekhov, perhaps like the director himself, was nostalgic for the days when he was young and lived in Moscow surrounded by friends, drinking

champagne when free from writing and stud ying

to the full capacity of his lungs, not ye t damaged by tuberculosis. I think that

medicine, and breathing life


Slavic and East European Performance Vol. 27, No. 1

this nostalgia was the inspiration for Tuminas, who recreates with incredible exactitude lost youth, when one drinks in life and enjoys it to the fullest, together with the heartaches and pains that it brings. Tuminas rarely employs furnished spaces in his productions. His use of space is free and subjective; instead of furniture, he prefers one central device, a functional and important piece of scenery that can be easily transformed into various places. Thus the raised platform on the stage in Three Sisters becomes a bed, a table, a room, Irina's nursery, and a cemetery of dreams. Draped in white at the beginning, it is covered by black fabric at the end. In the air, high above the characters' heads, Turninas hangs the cemetery fence, which is never lowered onto the stage, but nevertheless creates an aura of doomed life. Usually, in staging Three Sisters, the director chooses one sister and her story to accentuate, and then groups the others around her. For the original Moscow Art Theatre, it was Masha (Olga Knipper) and Vershinin (played by Stanislavsky) and their great love, which stood out and produced the romantic and tragic overtones. In the late thirties, Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko

chose Irina (Angelina Stepanova); although she lost all hope, yet final illumination came to the three sisters at the end. For Anatoly Efros in the 1960s, as described by Pavel Markov, the play was a story about four sisters, and the director blamed the sisters harshly for not resisting the evil in Narasha. For Sergei Artsybashev in the 1990s, it was a story about Masha and her love for Vershinin, which blossomed in a world that knew no mercy. Tuminas centers the story on Irina, casting Elzbieta Latenaite as the charismatic catalyst of the whole play. In a top hat, like a conjurer, Irina swings her riding crop, as

if it were a conductor's baton. Only Chebutykin (Gedirninas Gerdvinis), the

old doctor, guesses the sad ending of the story from the start, but he keeps it

a secret. By spinning a top, she brings a thrill into everyone's life. She is

impulsive and naive, tactless and full of life, and thus the one who is crushed

at the end. A true magician, Irina calls for the most important component of

the game, without which the fun, the laughter, and all the delightful jokes are impossible: the army. Turninas's directorial discovery was to show that it was the military who brought joy into the lives the three sisters. When the army leaves at the end, they take away with them the spirit of life itself. Tuminas, a

Lithuanian, portrayed the Russian Army with warmth and high esteem; he showed its spirit, its dignity, and its stylishness. The military ignited the


Three Sisters, directed by Rim as Tuminas creativity of the locals and sparked the town.

Three Sisters, directed by Rimas Tuminas

creativity of the locals and sparked the town. In many productions of Three Sisters, we see the intelligent and cultural sisters inspiring the officers; here, on the contrary, it is the army that inspires them. Could Irina, the daughter of a military man, love someone who does not wear a uniform? Not in this interpretation. Short and prosaic, Tuzenbakh Oocubas Bareikis) shrinks even further when he retires from the army and is out of his military uniform. All Tuminas's productions feature pantomime. Both the Russian and Lithuanian directorial theatre traditions have made the use of visual metaphors part of their established tradition, and Tuminas masterfully layers nonverbal images within the text of Three Sisters. Whether the soldiers are having snowball fights, or are making a snowman (snow woman in Russian, snezhnaia baba), or whether it is Irina, tired of words, suddenly using sign language, or the three sisters entwining themselves around Vershinin at the end, the nonverbal devices create a powerful imagery beyond the text. All three sisters admire Vershinin (Arunas Sakalauskas) and wrap themselves around him. Each sister wants a part of him; their longing for Moscow merges with their search for a true man. Irina, in a spontaneous

gesture, shows him her legs by lifting her skirt, which he discretely pulls down. Masha (Valda Bichkute), a woman who seems to have stepped out a turn-of- the-century fashion poster, slithers like a serpent in front of him; and even Olga, a reserved and composed teacher, flirts with him. Not only does Vershinin personify their dreams about Moscow, but he also awakens the sisters' femininity. That is why the scene of Masha's farewell with Vershinin becomes the heart-breaking climax of the story. However, Vershinin is no romantic hero. He is an elegant, good-looking military man who has suddenly been pulled into the world of the sisters' dreams, and he wholeheartedly responds to their fantasies. However, his leaving the town will not be the end of Vershinin's life, but it certainly seems like the end of theirs. Massenet's Elegy, which everyone sings as an improvised chorus-for a fundraiser on behalf of those who suffered in the fire-is full of tragic premonitions. Tuzenbakh sings it as a solo. Although he does not have much of a voice, he pours his soul out, telling us about the forthcoming catastrophe. He has just realized that the best times of their lives are over; the fullness of feelings, the freshness of sorrow, and even the power of self-deception will all be things of the past. In Act rv, after the army has le ft and Tuzenbakh is dead, the lightness of their being is truly unbearable. Olga and Masha try to console their younger sister, once an innocent magician at the beginning and now a

their younger sister, once an innocent magician at the beginning and now a Three Sisters, directed

Three Sisters, directed by Rimas Tuminas

woman on the verge of insanity. The sisters' attempt to nurture a man within their own household fails. Andrey, their brother, is given a revealing new interpretation by Tuminas and the actor (Audrus Bruzhas). It is hard to believe that this man could have become a professo r: only in his sisters' eyes, blinded by love for him, is Andrey a learned scholar. He is a grown-up baby, almost retarded, with a short attention span, and living in the nursery of his own mind. In his mid-twenties, he is still cuddled and kissed by his sisters. He has a small violin, perhaps the same one on which he practiced as a child. On the eve of his marriage, he proudly shows Vershinin a wooden toy that he has made himsel£ While Vershinin is embarrassed by Andrey's display of his "exceptional" abilities as a carpenter, the sisters hug their brother passionately with an outpouring of their inexhaustible motherhood. The most amazing aspect of the production is its acting. The complicated mise-en-scenes, rich in suggested meanings, seem improvisational. The deliberate lack of "predictability" of any kind highlights the true mastery of the director and his actors, some of whom are very young, and still his students. The sudden ness of their reactions, their behavior, conditioned by the moment-to-moment circumstances of the play, is absolutely authentic, genuine, and unrepeatable. This is not "psychological theatre" in the conventional sense, but it is true to the very essence of Stanislavsky in the immediate, here-and-now responses of the actors to one another. Ludvika Apinyte Popenhagen, writing in Nekrofius and the Lithuanian Theatre about another of the director's productions, Smile Upon Us, Lord, says that Tuminas creates

an oneiric ambiance with recurring stage images, characters who repeat complex movement patterns. The narrative and the stage action end in suspension-without a resolution; as the play draws to a close, the protagonists' journey is ongoing.2

This applies just as aptly to Three Sisters. The power of Tuminas's productions lies is in his ability to ignite the audience's imagination. He establishes direct communication with his spectators through sudden images and associations that tap the wellsprings of

human experience. Tuminas defined his preferred genre as a theatre of reminiscence. Three Sisters can awaken our most personal memories and illumine the hidden aspects of our own lives.

* Special thanks to Ramune BaleviCiute, the dramaturg of the State Small Theatre of Vilnuis.

NOTES 1 The State Small Theatre of Vilnuis. 2 Ludvika Apinyte Popenhagen, Nekrofius and Lithuanian Theatre, Vol. 8 of Artists and Issues in the Theatre (New York: Peter Lang, 1999), 152.



Olga Muratova

The conflict that arose between Stanislavsky and Chekhov at the beginning of the twentieth century over the interpretation of his plays persists until the present. Are Chekhov's plays emotion-laden dramas or mirthful comedies? Chekhov maintained that his plays were essentially comic, while Stanislavsky staged them as somberly tragic with resounding success. The usual Russian tradition of staging Chekhov typically follows Stanislavsky's interpretation. 1 Emotions are bottled up and tension mounts until the fourth act. To this day, comic elements are scarce or non-existent in most Russian productions, and in the last act, when the dam breaks and the feelings pour out, many spectators are welling up. Chekhov's export abroad started in the 1920s. After the Revolution, Russian emigre actors and directors brought Chekhov to the stages of France, England, Poland, and Germany. Chekhov's triumphant march abroad began with Stanislavsky's vision, but little by little moved further and further away from it. As a result, in the twenty-first century, there is somewhat of a gap between Russian and non-Russian practice in staging Chekhov. To illustrate my point, I wish to compare two New York productions of Uncle Vcurya, one by an American director with an all-American cast, the other by a Russian emigre director with a mixed cast of Russian and American actors. Both productions of Uncle Va!!Ja were greatly influenced by Georgy Tovstonogov's Russian TV flim, released in 1986. The film is actually a stage production of Uncle Vai!Ja, liberated from the restrictions of theatrical space and given cinematographic freedom of location. It is a hybrid of theatre and cinema that uses Tovstonogov's cast from the Bolshoi Drama Theatre in St. Petersburg, where he had worked as the artistic director from 1956 until his death in 1989 and which was given his name in 1992. Although the American and the Russian versions of Chekhov's play had the same point of origin in Tovstonogov's interpretation of Chekhov's text, they are distinctly different. The American Uncle Vai!Ja, directed by Eve Adamson, was staged at the Jean Cocteau Repertory Theatre in 2003 and ran successfully for two months, a typical lifespan for any production there. The Russian Uncle Vatrya,


Slavic and East European Performance Vol. 27, No. 1

created by Arnold Shvetsov, had the status of an off-off-Broadway play with a limited run of sixteen performances at the 78th Street Theatre Lab in 2005. Adamson was a founder of Jean Cocteau Repertory in 1971 and its first artistic director for eighteen years. There she directed over one hundred classical and modern plays, including Euripides' Medea, Ibsen's The Wild Duck, and Kafka's The Tnai Adamson's interest in Russian theatre has been long- lasting: she traveled extensively in the former U.S.S.R., directed in Russia, and hosted residencies of Russian theatre actors in the United States. This director clearly knows and respects Russian theatre. Arnold Shvetsov is a gradua te of Moscow's renowned GITIS (the Russian Academy of Theatre Arts), who has been living in New York for eleven years. In 1995, the Moscow Gogol Drama Theatre invited Edward Hastings, artistic director of the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco, to come to Moscow as Shvetsov's co-director of William Inge's Come Back, Little Sheba. Later that year, Hastings invited Shvetsov to study stage practices in his theatre in the United States. Shvetsov's work in Russia include Goldoni's The Quarrels in Chioggia, an adaptation of the Grimm Brothers' Frau Holle, and O'Henry's The Ransom of Red Chief, which ran for fifteen years at the Moscow Gogol Drama Theatre. Shvetsov's credits in New York include Two Poodles by Simon Zlotnikov at the Abrons Art Center at the Henry Street Settlement and Stravinsky's opera Mavra at Merkin Hall. Shvetsov also presented a production of Susanna Nazarenko's Isadora and Sergei, which played at Wondering Stars, a Russian-American musical theatre in New York. Here we have two different directors with disparate backgrounds, united by the same passion for Russian theatre in general and Chekhov in particular, who were inspired 2 by the same film by Tovstonogov, and came up with two sharply contrasting versions of Uncle Varrya. What they did have in common was a scenic realization of the theme of the emptiness, hollowness, and lack of essence in human existence. In the American version, the set design included an array of frames of various sizes hanging from the ceiling. Big frames and little frames, some more elaborate and fancy than others, were all empty, devoid of substance, and hence pathetic and useless. In the Russian version, Shvetsov used rows of strings with dried apple rings covering three stage walls like bamboo curtains. The apple rings, with the core removed, served as a metaphor for sterile has-beens, dried by time, and leaving nothing for posterity. Professor Serebryakov's art essays are worthless. Serebryakov's


marriage with Yelena Andreyevna will leave no children. Sonya, his daughter

from the first marriage, is doomed to die a spinster; Astro-1.·, Voinitsky, his mother, and the nanny are also over the hill and sterile. Astrov's maps of their area show how quickly flora and fauna become senselessly destroyed by humans who are eager to take nature's riches without giving anything in return. Lfe without meaning is but an empty shell, a picture frame with no picture, a withered apple ring wi thout life-giving seeds. Such metaphors are absent from Tovstonogov's film, which provides a very detailed naturalistic setting.

The fundamental difference b etween the two productions

is that the

American version is definitely a comedy, while the Russian staging is a highly charged drama that approaches tragedy. Adamson abando ns the unhurried

atmosphere of Tovstonogov's film and eliminates the Chekhovian pauses and silences. Tempo is important to Adamson, who tries to overcome Chekhovian stasis with dynamic conversation. If nothing is happening, let the audience

the rapid flow of dialogue. Shvetsov ad heres to Tovstonogov's

(initially Stanislavsky's) leisurely pace. His opening scen e, for example, has the

foc us on

pace. His opening scen e, for example, has the foc us on Uncle Vtl1rya, directed by

Uncle Vtl1rya, directed by Arnold Shvestov


Slavic and East European Performance Vol. 27, No. 1

Uncle Va'!Ya, directed by Arnold Shvestov to dry for the winter without uttering a sound

Uncle Va'!Ya, directed by Arnold Shvestov

to dry for the

winter without uttering a sound for about three minutes. During that time, the action is deliberately arrested so that the audience can absorb the somber atmosphere of rural life. In this immersion in country customs, there is nothing to provoke laughter. Meanwhile, in Adamson's ve rsion, laughter is in abundance. All male characters are portrayed satirically and comically. Uncle Va nya (Harris Berlinsky) and Doctor Astrov (Craig Smith) are laughable in their ridiculous competition for Yelena's affectio n. Astrov tries to make an impression as a man of the world, but in the eyes of Yelena (Elise Stone), who has lived most of her life in St. Petersburg, these feeble attempts at worldliness made by a provincial doctor are nothing short of comical. The mismatched love triangles of As trov-Yelena-Sonya (Amanda Jones) and Yelena-Astrov-Vanya are stripped of tragic colors and shown in a satirical light, as Chekhov had perhaps intended.

entire Voinitsky household cutting, s tringing, and hanging apples

The male characters are thoroughly laughable. For example, the fidgety and awkward Telegin ("Waffles"), played by Christopher Black, who wears complicated make-up that makes his face look believably pock-marked, behaves like a country bumpkin. In contrast, Sonya and Yelena are perfect copies of Tovstonogov's characters (Tatyana Bedova and Natalya Danilova respectively). Yelena is very graceful but highly charged sexually without realizing it. In the sunny, bright, and hot afternoon of Act I, she appears luxuriously basking in the sun like a cat, half napping lazily in her summer boredom. In the scene of the kiss, Yelena visibly, and very convincingly, yields to temptation and in the short struggle allows her morals to give way to her passions, not because Astrov is so strong, but because she is so weak and unprepared for the real world. Tovstonogov's and Adamson's Yelenas are both superfluous and superficial. They come to a place where life has followed an undisturbed and perfectly structured routine for years; they stir up an entire household, affect every one, and break all the rules. But once they leave and are removed from the equation, life bounces back to its old ways as if they never existed. Sonya, in contrast with Yelena, projects an image of a capable and strong-willed young woman. After six years of unrequited love for Astrov, she has found consolation in working and helping others. Sonya as played by Jones demonstrates a solid inner core that holds her together and supports her. Even her lamentation of her own physical unattractiveness in Act III sounds like something she has accepted and made peace with. The remark is casual, and she brushes it off soon enough, without dwelling upon it. In Tovstonogov's film and Adamson's staging, Sonya not only supports herself, but she also provides a moral framework for her loved ones. Uncle Vanya (who, incidentally, is defined primarily as an uncle, i.e., through his relation to Sonya), grandmother Voinitskaya, Telegin, the family estate, and the entire well being of Serebryakov's family totally depend on the strength and energy of this young woman. Bedova and Jones play Sonya as quiet, inconspicuous, but essential to the lives of many. In the interpretation by Tovstonogov and Adamson, Yelena is only a passing, episodic character whereas Sonya is intrinsic and real. Shvetsov's vision of the characters is quite different. The only exception is Astrov (Kirill Lavrov in the film and Aleks Shaklin in the theatre production), who follows Tovstonogov's version. Shaklin is one of the three


Slavic and East European Peiformance Vol. 27, No. 1

cast members who speak Russian and have Russian roots-the other two are Natia Dune (Sonya) and Peter Von Berg (Uncle Vanya)). To underscore his Russianness, Shvetsov has him sing in Russian the little song that Astrov sings in the drinking scene of Act II. Shaklin's is also the only character deliberately calling the nanny '!}a'!}a, as Russians do. There is nothing comical in his Astrov; Shaklin, like Lavrov, takes his life, hobby, love, and misfortunes very seriously, but Yelena as played by Lina Cloffe in Shvetsov's staging is modern, alive, and animated-unlike the alien figure in Tovstonogov's and Adamson's reading of the role. Whereas Vanya, as interpreted by Oleg Basilashvili in Tovstonogov's film, is portrayed as a man of pride and dignity who has only temporarily slipped by succumbing to Yelena's charms, Vanya in Shvetsov's production is loud, neurotic, and generally dissatisfied with the world, blaming it and not himself for his misfortunes. But the sharpest contrast with Tovstonogov's and Adamson's visions lies in Shvetsov's Sonya. Natia Dune portrays Chekhov's heroine as pathologically shy and anemic, obsessed by her physical unattractiveness and suffering greatly from it. She never comes out of her shell and wallows in her bad luck. In Act II, in the scene of Serebryakov's night conversation with his wife, Sonya passes slowly behind a transparent curtain, carrying a burning candle. Reduced to almost insignificance, a mere silhouette that moves noiselessly in the flickering light of her candle, she is unnoticed by the characters onstage. The only comical scene in Shvetsov's version of Uncle Vaf!Ya is the one absent from Chekhov's script, but brilliantly added by the director in the beginning of Act III. Serebryakov, played by Richard Sterne, tries to corral the entire household into one room to tell them about his plan of selling the estate. It takes him a good five to seven minutes to finally bring them all together and make them stay. Preoccupied with their own problems and engaged in their own last-minute activities, the household members do not keep still and scatter like sheep around the house, driving the professor to comical frustration. The rest of Shvetsov's staging follows faithfully the somber and tragic mood that Tovstonogov used in his fJ.l.m, including slow, sad music that produces a feeling of melancholy in keeping with the characters' unfulfilled, empty lives. Shvetsov, a Russian, preserved the traditional Russian mood in staging Chekhov. He cast three actors with Russian roots in key roles; his

audience was always mixed: half-Russian, half-American. Remaining faithful to Stanislavsky's interpretation of Chekhov, Shvetsov even managed to remove the .irony .in the shooting scene .in Act III and to justify's second missed shot by making the actor slip on an apple, which sent his bullet astray. Several Russians who saw the Jean Cocteau version winced .in Act IV, when the significance of Sonya's final resigned monologue was drowned in audience laughter. A number of Americans were bored by the 78th Street Theatre Lab production. As a Russian living in the United States for half my life, I am ready to admit that both parties in the conflict are right: Chekhov and Stanislavsky; Americans and Russians. Chekhov's works contain comedy and tragedy, laughter and tears. The emphasis may shift, as in Adamson's and Shvetsov's versions of Uncle Vaf!Ya, yet these shifts only reveal the richness and variety of the Russian playwright who is one of the world's greatest dramatists.

NOTES 1 Vakhtangov's and Meyerhold's vaudeville versions of Chekhov were short-lived exceptions rather than the rule. 2 In the case of the Jean Cocteau production, this influence was revealed on January 17, 2003, during the post-performance discussion and the Q&A session with the director and the cast. Adamson had shown Tovstonogov's film to the cast after perusing it herself. Shvetsov admitted that Tovstonogov's production had been a great influence on him in the post-performance interview that he gave me on March 12, 2005.


Slavic and East European Performance Vo l. 27, No. 1


Marvin Carlson

In November of 1971, Jerzy Grotowski's Laboratory Theatre purchased an isolated farm deep in the forest near the village of Brzezinka, forty-six kilometers from its home base in Wrodaw. Working spaces and modest accomodation were created there, but Grotowski chose to keep it in an remote place, without running water or electricity. It served as the home to his company's experiments in Paratheatre and Theatre of Sources until the announcement of martial law in Poland in December of 1981. T he following August, Grotowski left Poland and never returned to Brzezinka. The space was abandoned and fell into disrepair until finally, in 2001, the Wrodaw. authorities, at the urging of the Grotowski Centre, repaired the failing roof and stabilized the building. The following year other renovations restored it to its appearance in the 1970s, and it has since served as a study and workcenter for theatrical experimentation. The group primarily associated with the Brezinka Workcenter today is the Teatr ZAR, which between 1999 and 2002 undertook four expeditions into the remote Caucasus mountains of Georgia and Armenia, where, in the tradition of Grotowski's Theatre of Sources, they studied the performance of the two-thousand-year-old polyphonic singing in the world. From this r esea r ch g r ew their Gospels of Childhood performance, which was developed at the Brzezinka Workcenter and first performed there in October 2003. It is still presented from time to time at Brzezinka, where I witnessed it in December of 2006.

embedded in a full evening,

which began with a bus trip from Grotowski Centre in Wrodaw. The bus could not approach the forest retreat, hidden away in the woods, so a long walk along a primitive track was necessary, with the minimal necessary lighting provided by torches borne by representatives from the retreat. After a

gathering and some light refreshments in a rough wooden room where simple wood-burning fireplaces provided welcome relief from the December cold and damp, we were escorted to a neighboring larger space where several sections of simple wooden bleachers provided seating along one side of the rectangular room where the action took place.

The Gospels of Childhood performa n ce was

The Brzezinka Workcenter in Brzezinka, Poland The Gospels of Childhood, Teatr ZAR 9 8 Slavic

The Brzezinka Workcenter in Brzezinka, Poland

The Brzezinka Workcenter in Brzezinka, Poland The Gospels of Childhood, Teatr ZAR 9 8 Slavic and

The Gospels of Childhood, Teatr ZAR


Slavic and East European Performance Vol. 27, No.1

The performance itself wove together a variety of musical and narrative strands, the former primarily from the Georgian tradition and from the lirurgical songs of the Orthodox Republic of Monks at Athos, the latter from various Gnostic writings from the beginning of Christianity. These included the claimed writings of Mary Magdelene, Philip, and Thomas, supplemented by material from Dostoevsky and Simone Weil. The first part of the performance was built around the apochryphal "testimony of Mary Magdalene," the second around the story of Lazarus, evoked through the mouths of his sisters Marta and Maria-Maria being, according to some Gnostic writings, the same as Mary Magdalene. The exclusive use of traditional, chanting of candles for illumination (the site possessing no electricity), the neutral dress of the performers, and the religious text gave to much of the performance the feeling of the celebration of some ancient religious ritual. Although the actors flowed in and out of a central choral group, singing Svaneti songs and Greek and Georgian liturgical chants, individual actors would from time to time emerge from the group to assume particular roles, such as that of Jesus or Lazarus. Two women, set apart from the rest of the reddish tint of their robes, represented the sisters Mary and Martha, and accompanied each of the sections of the work with a continuously changing pas de deux, sometimes violent, sometimes suggesting classic statuary. The overall impression was distinctly elegiac, the mourning of the sisters of Lazarus melding into the mourning of the Mary's over the dead Christ. Both, however, culminate in the ecstatic celebration of resurrection. Chanting the exultant Easter Song from the Athos Christos anesti, the actors light candles placed in circles upon wheels suspended from the ceiling in various locations in the room, raise them to serve as a kind of rough chandeliers, and then depart into the darkness, leaving the audience seated in an empty hall, brighly illuminated by the slowly turning lights, with the ancient chants still echoing in their memory.



SETH BAOMRIN is Assistant Professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY He holds both a Ph.D. and Masters of Philosophy from the Graduate Center, CUNY, as well as an M.F.A. from Brooklyn College and a B.A. from Hunter College. He served as artistic director of Five Moon Theatre from 1980 to 1996 and currently directs for Vertical Player Repertory.

CHERYL BLACK is Associate Professo r of Theatre and Director of Graduate Studies at the University of Missouri-Columbia, book review editor of Theatre History Studies, and Secretary of the American Theatre and Drama Society. She is the author of The Women of Provincetoll!n, numerous journal articles on theatre history and criticism, and eight plays and dramatic adaptations.

MARVIN CARLSON is the Sidney E. Cohn Distinguished Professor of Theatre and Comparative Literature at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. His newest book, Speaking in Tongues, was published in 2006 by the University of Michigan Press.

MARIA IGNATIEVA is Associate Professor in the Department of Theatre, Ohio State-Lima. She has over fifty publications on contemporary Russian theatre and the history of Russian theatre. She has taught at the Moscow Art Theatre School Studio and the University of Helsinki, and presented papers at conferences in Australia, Germany, Finland, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and Poland. A specialist in Stanislavsky, she recently completed her book Stanisfavs~andActresses.

DASHA KRIJANSKAIA is Assistant Professor of Theatre and Drama at Roosevelt Academy/Utrecht University (the Netherlands). She is a member of the European Festival Research Project and the founding chief editor of the journal TEATR· Russian Theatre Past and Present (2002-2005). Her research interests include contemporary East European theatre, modernist theatre in Russia and Europe, new Russian drama, twentieth-century directing, as well as the European festival circuit. She has contributed as a freelance writer to a number of publications in Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.


Slavic and East European Performance Vol. 27, No. 1

MAXIM K.RlVOSHEYEV is Manager of Theatre Projects of the ASTI USA Foundation. He holds a Ph.D. in Cultural Studies from the Institute of Art Studies (Moscow) and a Masters in Performing Arts Management from the Moscow Art Theatre School, where he also served as Director of International Programs and Translator from 2000 to 2004.

EVELINA MENDELEVICH teaches composition and world literature at City College, CUNY She is a doctoral student in the Ph.D. Program in Comparative Literature at the Graduate Center, CUNY, specializing in nineteenth-century Russian, British, and French literature. Her research interests include the psychological novel and nineteenth-century Russian women writers and poets.

OLGA MURATOVA teaches Russian Studies at John Jay College of Criminal

her doctorate in the Ph.D.

Program in Comparative Literature at the Graduate Center, CUNY. She is a regular contributor to SEEP

Justice, CUNY She is currently working on

NICHOLAS RZHEVSKY is Professor and Chair of the Department of European Languages, Literatures, and Cultures at Stony Brook University, SUNY He is the author of the forthcoming Modern Russian Stage: A Literary and Cultural History. On the creative side of the arts, he wrote the English language version of Yury Lyubimov's adaptation of Crime and Punishment staged in London (1983).

LAURENCE SENELICK is Fletcher Professor of Drama and Oratory at Tufts University and a recipient of the St. George Medal of the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation for services to Russian art and theatre. He has recently published his translations of The Complete Plqys of Anton Chekhov CW. W Norton) and Gogol's The Inspector General (Broadway Play Publishing).

Theatre of Players ASTI USA Foundation


Photo Credits

Andrzej Babinski, courtesy of the Grotowski Institute Archive

The Gospels qf Childhood

Tom D ombrowski, courtesy of the Teatr ZAR Archive


T he Utopian Theatre Asylum

Tho Saw Dreams

Culture Project's IMPACT Festival

Sfw/Nikita Mitskevich

Culture Project's IMPACT Festival


The Taganka Theatre

Three Sisters

State Small T heatre of Vilnius

Uncle Vanya

Arnold Shvestov and the 78th Street Theatre Lab


T he Brzezinka Workcenter

The Gospels of Childhood


Teatr ZAR Archive


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A Bibliography


Meghan Duffy

Senior Editor

Daniel Gerould

Initiated by Stuart Baker, Michael Early, & David Nicolson

This bibliography is intended for scholars, teachers, students, artists, and general readers interested in the theory and practice of comedy. It is a concise bibliography, focusing exclusively on drama, theatre, and performance, and includes only published works written in English or appearing in English translation.

Comedy is designed to supplement older, existing bibliographies by including new areas of research in the theory and practice of comedy and by listing the large number of new studies that have appeared in the past quarter of a century.

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The Arab Oedipus:

Four Plays