Sunday, November 02, 2003

A Very Busy Weekend, Part One

This weekend I attended three shows: A play, a musical, and a ballet. I don't think I've been this cultured since I attended Interlochen Arts Camp. After working at a Library children's halloween parade/party (I was the blue fairy in the bridesmaid dress with wings and a tiara handing out candy in the garden) I came home feeling pretty blue about not having a real party to go to. Thankfully my town is full of interesting events, and so I had a choice of trying to see Boris Godunov or the Suzanne Farrell Ballet Company. My neighbor was going to see Godunov, so I chose to attend it with her and her husband.

As you can see from the review linked above, it was a tale of politics, regicide, and sex, which makes for a good show. The first fifteen minutes were a bit odd, being nothing but a long liturgical reading and chants by men dressed as Russian Orthodox clergy(none of which was supertitled) but the best scene by far took place near a fountain. The imposter of prince Dimitri, Gregory(who looks like a young, charismatic and kinda hot version of Putin) is romancing the power-hungry princess of Lithuania if I remember correctly. In a fit of passionate jealousy (she keeps saying she loves Prince Dimitri, and our imposter's feeling a bit piqued that she doesn't love him) the poor boy tells the princess he's nothing but a poor, parentless renegade monk. She's pissed to be sure, and a power struggle ensues that is more exciting and sexy than a pure seduction scene could ever be. Gregory almost seems to win, telling her no one would believe her if she tried to unmask him, and making it clear that he would forget all about her when he took Moscow with his growing army. Marina lures him back with visions of a romp in the fountain, but after getting him sopping wet, she crawls out of the poolin the hole in the stage, picks up her billowy dress which psuedo-Dimitri had so painstakenly removed only minutes before, and tells him to call her when he has the crown of Russia on his head, and not a moment sooner. Our hero (or anti-hero, however you choose to see it) looks stupified for a second, then brilliantly recovers himself, mockingly bowing to the audience on both sides (we were seated in bleechers, the play was set on a raised platform in a basketball court or something) and explaining Marina's behavior to us.

"She's a snake. Snaaaake." Of course, he does exactly what she asks.

The whole thing was very "Russian," thought the director was British. All the male political figures smoked on stage, slapped their hands against things, lifted political foes off the ground or strangled them with their ties. The physicality of the characters was very different from how men acted in Henry V, where power was all about standing still and radiating a sort of throbbing vocal intensity. But here, men curl into bearish creatures, glowering, howling, shouting and growling in gutteral Russian.

Of course violence doesn't stop at tie-strangulation. In one scene Gregory almost burns a hole in a POW's head with his cigarette (I told you he wasn't really a hero), but no one gasps in shock or turns away in horror. The violence exhibited in this play almost feels 'cultural.' Nobody called the shocking portrayal of murder of children in Medea a demonstration of Irish cultural views of homocide. I think the director were trying to demonstrate a "culture of tyranny", but we were too busy seeing the Russian in everything (I was particularly caught up in the wonderful traditional dancing Gregory did in one scene.. that guy was really talented).

What I picked of from the play was that the Russian public, in Pushkin's view, was malleable and easily swayed towards the melodramatic. For the sake of a dream of a Russia returned to the 'rightful rule' they would ignore that invasion of their land by a bunch of Polish and Cossacks who raid villages and create misery and mayhem. The public admired and loved Ivan the Terrible, even though he had been a murderous fiend in life. The point was that people were very 'surface' oriented, and never saw the bigger picture. At the same time leaders like Boris and Gregory, both brought to power by personality cults, cannot create lasting dynasties. Even as Boris loses power and Gregory gained it, it seems clear that Gregory's reign cannot be long-lived.


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