Gondla in 1922

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January 22, 2017 by AK

Finally, after two preliminary posts, a longer excerpt from Mikhail Kuzmin’s 1922 review of Theatrical Workshop’s Gondla. (And I haven’t yet gotten to the Khlebnikov part.) The original text can be found here, as part of a collection of Kuzmin’s theater criticism, and here. Both texts share the same OCR error: “logical” instead of “poetic.”

In particular, staging Gumilev’s play required a different kind of courage, bordering on the useless; it posed difficulties almost insurmountable from a theatrical point of view. The point is that this poetic work is perfectly inapplicable to the stage. The words of Gumilev, who never loved or understood the theater, entail no gesture, no action, and are not in the least animated by theatrical psychology and logic. From a limited number of unexpected, unfounded acts, descriptions in verse and lyrical dicta, unconvincing and often contradicting each other, one cannot possibly create a theatrical impression.

Through a heroic effort by Theatrical Workshop, a certain phantom of life glimmered up in this naive and, in all respects, lifeless composition.

First of all, we heard an almost ideal recitation of poetry – as a rule, they don’t know how to recite poetry here [in Russia] – and fresh young voices.

Without the “gesture for the sake of gesture” tendency (leading inexorably to an empty and meaningless prettiness) and without enough motivations  (theatrical, psychological and logical) within the play for them, movements were reduced to a minimum. Even with this economy, one cannot but point out the beautiful scene of the second act, the transformation into wolves and the spellworking action of the magic lute…

It’s difficult to say anything about individual performers, since one cannot squeeze more than recitation and skimpy gestures from this play… [A brief discussion follows nonetheless.]

[Anatoly] Arapov’s meticulous scenery and the very well-fitting music testified to careful and considerate work.

Last year, it was staged by Luke Morgan and Meaney Productions in Ireland, to critical acclaim. The play itself was translated into English, for the first time, by Philip McDonagh, an Irish diplomat and poet who served as the Republic’s ambassador to Moscow for a while.

One more curious detail. The central female characters in Gondla (published 1917) and Doctor Zhivago (published 1957), Lera and Lara, were named, in all likelihood, after the same woman.


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