Theater Against Immoral Fatalism – DW – 19.09.2022

Theatre, stage
Photo: Ulf Mauder/picture alliance/dpa

The end of the 2022 theater season ended in Moscow with a large-scale disaster similar to the sinking of the Titanic. Under the impact of repression, several leading artistic directors of the capital’s cornerstone theaters went under water. The real tragedy was closing of the “Gogol-Center”, which ended heroically with the performance “I am not participating in the war.” It was a time of indignation and weeping over ruined productions.

Gone military summer, military autumn has come. A new theater season has begun. I received an invitation to come to the premiere of the play “Transfiguration” at the Mark Rozovsky Theater (the play was created based on his own play). Judging by the annotation (the premiere has not yet taken place), this is a story about the people of the Silver Age, Andrei Bely, Valery Bryusov. I think that the ways of the existential theater, which in the days of the current catastrophe is thinking about the catastrophe that ended the Silver Age, is an attempt to get out of the direct blow, but to respond to this blow. Here it’s not just a fig in your pocket, which was typical of progressive Moscow theaters in Soviet times, but a more philosophical understanding of the antagonism of human nature, understanding the eternal clash of talent and the state. And such a performance, apparently, is not an exception, but an emerging norm. The directors who remained alive, that is, in their places, thought about saving their theaters, their repertoire and their actors.

Viktor Erofeev
Viktor ErofeevPhoto: Wolfgang Minich/picture alliance

The state has not come up with a global ideology, as in the Soviet “communism”. Patriotic slogans and appeals are a screen for the imperious ambitions of our tsar-kid, who decided to reign forever, turning his back on world values. This screen will not close the problems of war and peace in the human soul itself. That is why I see how, for example, in the new season at the Pushkin Theater or at the Mayakovsky Theater, performances appear that, it would seem, only tangentially touch on today’s problems, but all of them are against immoral fatalism.

Even the Soviet authorities could not put a noose on Russian culture. Chekhov was not banned, but in him is the very challenge to immoral fatalism, which again found itself in military state fashion. It is not surprising that Chekhov is being revived, and in a new way, in the current repertoire. Chekhov, in a sense, is SOS – the savior of our souls.

Of course, disputes will never subside over whether it is possible, on the ruins of conscience and on the misfortune of Ukrainian neighbors, to engage in art, play, act in general, especially since there are no end to prohibitions anyway. One way or another, the performances of Rimas Tumanis are prohibited (the Vakhtangov Theater, under the pretext of technical reasons, is not lucky with his masterpiece performance – I saw it and do not exaggerate – “War and Peace” on tour to St. Petersburg). The real innovator of the theater, Dmitry Krymov, who left for the United States before the war to stage The Cherry Orchard, is closed or semi-closed. At the Moscow level, his performances were closed, but at the federal level they seem to continue. Such confusion and vacillation with prohibitions is another sign of the absence of a real state ideology. The state hits those who protest against the war, but what about the existential performances, which, whatever one may say, have a humanistic meaning? It is possible to rewrite the history of a country (this is not the first time this has been done in Russia), but culture can be made to work for the state only when, having raped, the state kills culture. The current state has little guts to deal with culture. To ban is welcome, but culture, as seen in the theatrical repertoire of this season, will always seep through bans. And eventually, compromised by culture, prohibitions will collapse. Hurry so.

Viktor Erofeev, writer, literary critic, TV presenter, author of the books “Russian Beauty”, “Good Stalin”, “Akimuds” and many others, holder of the French Order of the Legion of Honor.

This comment expresses the personal opinion of the author. It may not coincide with the opinion of the Russian editors and Deutsche Welle in general.

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