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Knights of the Vine RUSSIA


Who Needs a House Like This?
Text by Olga Mikhailova

As they say in court: I promise to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. But what is truth? A personal opinion – is that truth? So let’s say a certain woman appears to you to be plain looking, but this is only because she hasn’t slept well, and the light catches her at an unfavorable angle. But on another day she looks great, and some think she’s a true beauty. The same is true of food. One person wants their meat well-done, but another would find it leathery, and demands that it be served bloody, almost raw. So the write-ups on the lady and the meat will be entirely contradictory. The same is true of a theatrical performance. The title, the names of the writer and director – these are all facts, we can believe these. But how the play turns out, well-done or bloody, is a matter of taste. So we begin with just the facts: the Moscow School of Modern Drama Theater is performing the play House, on the script of Eugeny Grishkovets with the assistance of Anna Matison. The author (as he is listed on the program, rather than as director) is Iosif Rakhelgauz. The director is Sergei Solovyov. The theater is located in an old building on Trubnaya Ploshchad.

It is said that in 1864 the merchant Yakov Pegov and the cook Lucien Olivier (the legendary creator of Russia’s most popular salad, the Olivier) opened the Hermitage restaurant here, which was graced by the leading lights of the Russian arts, from Tchaikovsky, who celebrated his marriage here in 1877, to Chekhov and Stanislavsky.

I walk in. The rows have been broken up, and the seats are in clusters of three or five, haphazardly. This makes the place feel cramped and disorderly. At length, with difficulty, I get to my seat. Each of the four walls has a video screen. Aha, so this is why Sergei Solovyov is on the program. The show starts. The curtain fully conceals the stage, and the actors sit among the audience in mixed rows. Some can see them from their seats, some can’t. But in any case, their faces are shown enlarged on the screens. The protagonist stands up, and makes his way between the seats to the other players. So now he is partially visible. I presume that this leveling of the artists with the audience means that the protagonists are no different to ordinary people, and that this will be about you and me.

Now to the story. Igor, a doctor of around forty, decides all of a sudden to buy a house. In fact, he has yet to pay the mortgage on his apartment, but such trifles do not bother him. I want a house, and that’s that. But a house costs money – no small sum. But this isn’t a problem either. I’ll borrow. But from whom? The bank won’t lend anything until the outstanding mortgage is paid off. Friends will lend. It turns out that all of this ordinary doctor’s friends are very wealthy people – finding the cash value of the house is no problem for them. They have the money, but they refuse to lend it to their friend Igor. Moreover, their arguments are perfectly logical – how will you pay it back? Where will you find the money to maintain this house? Igor is mortally offended by these rude questions – he has a dream, and here they are affronting him with their practicalities. By the end of the first act, there are two friends left who Igor has yet to ask for money. Interval.

After the interval, the action moves to the screen where these same actors celebrate the purchase of the house, in period costume from the beginning of the last century. And then the hero shoots himself. Either he understood that he couldn’t pay the debt, or after moving he was disappointed with his new house. Or perhaps the writers were simply reminded of Chekhov’s The Seagull, and thought: how cleverly Chekhov rounded off his acts – let’s do that too. But what did all this show us? They brought in good actors. There are even media personalities – Alexander Gordon, and the beauty Tatyana Vedeneyeva. But what are they all getting at? Does the theater sympathize with the hero, or condemn him? The frivolity verging on imbecility, and total lack of higher goals, or any interests other than personal material gain, make the hero appear to be a satirical character. But his terrible death should, by theatrical logic, trigger our empathy. However, shown on the screen in pseudo-historical dress, the hero ceases to be a living person. Just a sign, a shadow, a typical representative of the mortgage crisis. Why does he want a house? It would be easier to buy an Olivier salad – a mass of guaranteed pleasure.

Moscow School of Modern Drama Theater
June 11, 12, 13

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