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prof. Anatoly Antohin Theatre UAF AK 99775 USA (907)474-7751
As you can see I am using my own adaptation/translation.
The parade of Nina Chusova’s big, blowzy, noisy, colorful productions continues to march from Moscow stage to Moscow stage. It has been roughly four years since she burst on the scene with some small, quirky, attention-grabbing shows at the National Youth Theater and the Satirikon. Since then Chusova has gone big-game hunting, taking into her sights the mainstages of several of the city’s most popular playhouses – including the Sovremennik, the Moscow Art Theater and the Pushkin Theater.
With a new rendition of Nikolai Gogol’s comedy “The Inspector General,” Chusova can now hang the pelt of the Mossoviet Theater from her belt.
Chusova is something of a force of nature. Like the howling wind that seems to lash the stage at the beginning of “The Inspector General,” she is unrelenting, unforgiving and impossible to ignore. Her productions reflect the chaos, the paucity of taste, the garish excess and the narrow egotism of the world that surrounds and inspires her. She doesn’t appear to have formed an attitude to any of it; in fact, the closest she seems to come to caring about her characters is the sporting interest she has in using them to replicate common contemporary archetypes – money-grubbers, attention-grabbers and the like.
Gogol’s play, of course, is ripe material for a task like this. It tells the classic tale of a lowly clerk making fools of an entire town’s populace when they mistake him for a state functionary on a secret mission. Khlestakov, the clerk from St. Petersburg, is something of a blank slate, a harmless non-entity until circumstances conspire unexpectedly to raise him above his state in life. And when that happens, he is quick and smart enough to make hay while the making’s good. By the time he skips town, ably aided and abetted by his shrewd servant Osip, he has devastated everyone he has been in contact with.
Chusova, with designers Vladimir Martirosov and Anastasia Glebova, shifted the place of action for much of the play. It begins on a wind-whipped ice-fishing trip and unfolds, for the most part, in a new Russian “mall” – one of those cheap, gaudy commercial centers replete with a bar, a casino, a cafe and a sex shop. The three-storied architectural monstrosity is outfitted with flashing neon lights and faux-luxurious interiors all around except for the ground floor which is still under construction and appears to have been abandoned, probably because the builders ran out of money.
The mayor of this blighted burg – the man who ultimately takes it on the chin more than anyone – is played by Alexander Yatsko as an even-keeled, almost respectable man. He knows perfectly well that the men of power around him are crooks, but he also knows that if they keep their shenanigans under wraps, no one is likely to be hurt. This presumably is why he invited his cronies out into the frozen wilds to tell them the latest news – an inspector, traveling incognito, apparently has checked into the local hotel and is determined to see what they all are up to. But most of all, this mayor seems to be tired and haunted by a vague inclination that he was born to fish in bigger ponds. When Khlestakov comes along with his intoxicating and exceedingly fabricated stories about the beau monde in the capital, the mayor begins allowing himself to dream of moving up in the world.
It is only when everything comes crashing down around the Mayor that he allows himself for a fleeting few moments to show his true face, unleashing a wicked, bilious, threatening attack on everyone, himself included, for being duped so easily.
Gosha Kutsenko plays Khlestakov as a mediocrity run amuck. Pouty, rude and mildly challenged intellectually, he might never have been able to play the role of the visiting dignitary were it not for the even ruder and more selfish Osip (Konstantin Yushkevich). Osip is there at every turn to tutor his master in the art of manipulation and to take advantage of every mistake the townspeople make.
We first encounter Osip as he emerges from beneath the covers after what appears to have been a less-than-satisfying roll in the hay with a disinterested maid from the grungy hotel that he and Khlestakov are stuck in. Out of money and out of credit, the duo can’t eat or leave. The grossly dirty room they inhabit is illuminated by a single, glaring light bulb that shines in the eyes of the audience like a spotlight at a police interrogation. Osip, cynical and arrogant, keeps trying to listen to pop music on the radio and Khlestakov keeps trying to turn it off, but both of them throw themselves like ravenous dogs at the meager last meal Khlestakov was able to bully the hotel manager into providing. Life, in short, is one damn mess from which there appears to be no way out. That is, until the mayor decides he had better flatter this “visiting dignitary” by giving him the grand tour of the town and beginning the ritual of lining his pockets with bribes – always in American dollars, of course.
The locals here are an animated crew. The Mayor’s wife Anna Andreyevna (Margarita Shubina) is loud, crass and hopelessly in love with herself. Her daughter Marya Antonovna (Lilia Volkova) is a gum-chewing, face-making victim of fashion barely capable of balancing on a pair of elevator shoes or squeezing an intelligible word out of her mouth. The local policeman Derzhimorda (Alexander Grishayev) goes in for cross-dressing when in a party mood. The two town busybodies Dobchinsky (Yury Kvyatkovsky) and Bobchinsky (Pavel Savinkov) are like gnats – always in somebody’s face.
The humor in this “Inspector General” revolves loosely around the basic bodily functions. There are drunk jokes galore interspersed with situational send-ups of oral sex, doggy-style sex, rape and masturbation.
Shortly after his play premiered in 1836, Gogol wrote, “Khlestakov is not a liar by trade; he himself forgets he is lying and then almost believes what he is saying… He lies with feeling and his eyes reflect the pleasure he derives from doing that. This is probably the greatest and most poetic moment of his life; one might call it inspiration.” Poetry and inspiration – two of Khlestakov’s key qualities in the opinion of the man who created him. What that implies, of course, is that Gogol imagined Khlestakov as a figure who is capable of eliciting our interest, who is not merely a social type reduced to the lowest common denominator.
Chusova’s take on Gogol’s anti-hero is just the opposite – her Khlestakov is an everyman, the kind of schmuck you see every day on the street, in the metro, on the television. The only thing that sets him apart is that he got lucky – somebody took him for somebody else, stuck a bunch of hundred dollar bills in his pockets and let him get his groping hands on the mayor’s wife and daughter. His whole reason for being is to get his fill quick before he gets caught. In this production, everybody is a sleaze, a cheat, a thug or just a plain loser. And who cares? Doesn’t that reflect the world we live in?
The problem is this: If Chusova doesn’t care about the characters she’s working with, why should – or, even, how can – we?
***“The Inspector General” (Revizor) plays June 10 at 7 p.m. at the Mossoviet Theater in the Aquarium Garden. Metro Mayakovskaya. Tel. 299-2035. www.mossovet.theatre.ru. Running time: 3 hours, 25 minutes.***
Russian Text download *
MISTER K, man from America
JO, his Russian friend and assistant
MAYOR, the mayor of the small Siberian town
ANNA, his wife
MARY, his daughter
SUPER, schools' superintendent
JUDGE, local judge
DIRECTOR, Director of Social Services
EDITOR of local newspaper and councilman
DOB Chinsky & BOB Chinsky, local councilmen and businessmen
CHIEF, police captain
Time: Christmas 199...
Place: small Siberian town "Leninsk" recently renamed back to "Little Mudhole"
Set: Mayor's office, Room in local hotel, Mayor's houseThe notes are gone (maybe some are still somewhere on the disks. No character analysis pages (like in later productions), no egroup, no story why I didn't direct "Inspector" in Russia in 1992-1993 (RAT).
I don't think I have energy to restore the archive -- read Father-Russia. At least there are scenes when Gogol visits me in St. Petersburg, during the preporation for the Russian version of the show "Inve$tor General"....
[ Some reviews by Freedman for Moscow Times -- right table. ]
Theatre UAF main stage
Programs, poster, review in Theatre Dept. office on record.
Diary in Russian.
Russian Classical Music
Russian Children Books
@2001-2002 shows *
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