How to change a person. Review of the show Heart of a Dog / Day

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At a time when Russian culture is suspected of secretly inspiring imperialist ideas, Latvian theaters have not distanced themselves from Russian literature. Presumably, not only because, whether we like it or not, it is part of the intellectual heritage of all humanity and forms its polyphony of various thoughts and voices, but also because the informed is always armed. It is good to talk about the absurdity of life, however cruel it may be, in the words of writers who have experienced it themselves.

More relevant than ever

At the end of November, Mikhail Bulgakov’s epic story premiered in the Great Hall of the Russian Theater of Mikhail Chekhov in Riga. A dog’s heart performance, which reminds us that the writer’s unparalleled satire, which exposes Soviet power and its accomplices and mercilessly investigates the causes that make a person what he is, is now more relevant than ever. The Russian author, born in Kiev, with as much passion, for example, in the novel already staged in the Drama Theater of Valmiera in the foreseeable past Master and Margarita and in the play Zoe’s apartment, This time it also deals with the events in the paradoxical time when the power of the state, manipulating people’s instincts, temporarily created a false impression of their freedom of action. Bulgakov in time tells you to give up illusions about the possibility of transforming a person by force. The political subtext of this work and performance is obvious.

The long story really entertains and fascinates – the writer reinforces the already insane reality of Soviet Russia of the 20s of the last century with small but significant exaggerations, and convinces the reader of its reality precisely because it appears so impossible. The plot is also extremely dynamic. It begins with Sharik, a lost dog on the outskirts of Moscow, dispassionately contemplating the prose of his life. After that, he unexpectedly falls into rather bourgeois wealth with Professor Preobrazhensky and acquires the name Sharik, he is experimentally humanized when the new owner and his equally intelligent assistant Dr. Bormenthals transplants his pituitary gland and testicles of a repeat who died in a fight. In the sequel, the rapidly evolving Xarik learns with enviable success the progressive standards of behavior of the proletariat, which threatens everything and everyone, until it leads to a cruel solution, which the doctors, who are human in every sense, but also guided by the instinct of self-preservation, they are forced to decide.

The main means of expression of the Director Dmitry Petrenko is the deliberately slow rhythm of the performance, which unfortunately becomes an obstacle to his perception during the performance. Initially, it emphasizes the inevitability of the madness that is happening around, the impossibility of escaping it, the hypnotic monotony that is used and forces the extraordinary to be considered the norm. It is introduced by the unhurried arrival of Yevgeni Cherkes’ sleepy Sharik on stage from the farthest entrance door of the audience hall and his unforced presence on stage both in speech as well as in movements. However, the subsequent entanglement of the plot felt as if by the way, as if optional. There is little to laugh about and very little to miss about what happens on stage, so surprisingly the show is, in contrast to the text,… boring.

Presumably, it is not the fault of the author of the dramatization, Alexander Zapolys, because he focused unduly on the many events captured in a naturalistic way and the people involved, for example, by refusing to treat patients with sexual problems in -the professor’s reception, whose dialogues are wittily interpreted by the housekeeper Zina and the cook Darya. They lightly annoy their employer, who themselves depend on his favor. The viewer’s concentration on the story is rather hampered by the director’s attempt to overcome the monumental and artistically self-sufficient scenographic solution. Its authors, Krista and Reinis Dzudzilo, in their typical semantically saturated minimalism, really created a visual dramaturgy parallel to the text, clearly revealing the essence of this concept.

The next step

Almost the entire mouth of the stage is occupied by a six-sided figure, which rotates widely around its axis, and exposes one plane to the audience, which is covered by black curtains. One Cyrillic letter is printed on each of them, and together they form the word “hearts”. In the course of the performance, the housekeepers open the curtains one by one in solemn solemnity, revealing the rooms hidden behind them. Their replacement in itself drives the events, and their austere interiors undoubtedly contain significant associations, which the time of the show is not enough to learn and explore. The most effective of them are the stairs that lead to the professor’s apartment, or just as well to the next rung of the social hierarchy, and the representationally tough hall of flags, where a foreign agent hides under the flags of -27 member states of the free and democratic European Union, looking for a place for its polished hammer and sickle.

The scope of the sophisticated construction due to the massive, but all, wooden panels used, which is illuminated by Oskars Pauliņš’s ingenious lighting solution, where dynamic and different shadows fall according to the shape of the interior, it is in dissonance with the actual and symbolic. the narrowness that Preobraženskis experiences when he wants to bring together all the areas of society’s life, the space for life, work, thought and ultimately also personal freedom is removed – the all stage action takes place in a narrow space between the proscenium and the high walls. In addition, props – lamps, clocks, flag holders and clamps, in which to fasten the bright five-pointed star in bright gold and other ideological attributes – are placed so high that it is impossible to reach them without a ladder. This makes the professor feel like an outsider in his seven-room apartments that are comfortable and, above all, appropriate for the social status. The apocalyptic mood is maintained by Anna Fischer’s distant sounding cosmic music that accompanies the characters as they face the new reality.

A thankless task

In the program, the artists briefly explained the regularities of their idea. It confirms their independent imaginative thinking, empathizing with Bulgakov’s plot, in which medicine and language learning have an important place, with the phenomenon of discovery and the circle, the letter as symbols of the beginning However, it is unlikely that the viewer can come to such revelations independently. Therefore, in the stage performance, these signs sometimes become illustrative, without being part of a unified message of the performance. Because of course it is in the second act, when the characters exchange their solid costumes for casual jeans and T-shirts printed with different Cyrillic letters. In several scenes, they take place one after the other without any practical need to read the words “dog” and “Koba” in Russian, the latter of which is known to have been Stalin’s nickname in the party.

Since the play depends on the visual (or rather – by giving in to it), naturally the role of the characters is the most functional. The actors were given a thankless task, as they are forced to take a back seat to the rhythm and dominance of the scenography. Yevgeniy Cherkes perfectly survives such conditions in the role of a dog. Fortunately, the creative team avoids zoomorphic transformations – instead, Sharik clad in underwear accepts his hopeless existence with a heavy heart. This is well described in the scene when he lies on the dinner table even before the operation and, touching the metal bowl with his foot, recalls his modest presence and also his appetite. Like Bulgakov, the creative team also knows that the main character is no longer a dog, but a conflicted man whose heart is harder than a keeper.

That Ivan Streltsov is capable of intonational subtleties was confirmed by the reticent poignancy that marred his Alexander Vertinsky in his self-produced performance. Vertinsky Street at the beginning of this season, but this time the director’s setup does not give much opportunity for creative expression in the character of Bormenthal[tiopportunitàg[alespressjonikreattivafil-karattruta’Bormenthal

Infernal creatures

Dmitri Pales always self-ironic, unfortunately, in his Preobrazhenský, he does not manage to emphasize the colorful characteristics of a person confident in himself, but at the same time kind-hearted, which allows us to see the different scale of this big personality and the cruel era in which he is caught. It can also be a conceptual choice that shows the degrading power of power, which puts even the luminary of science in the role of a small person, but such a determined interpretation greatly reduces the ambiguity necessary for roaring art. On the other hand, Anatoly Fechin greatly simplifies the already limited house manager Shvonder, despite his elegant blood-red costume, whose adventurous but useless activity personifies the absurdity of the arrangement il – new life. Thus, the conflict between the declared possibilities of the militant ideology and their dire solution will be further reduced. Also for Alexander Malikov Sharikova another self the skin only manages to show a minor villain whose insolence is more annoying than socially dangerous. However, the actor’s interpretation is not surprising, as it resembles his previous roles, especially the easily irritated lost son with a speech defect in last season’s show Momo!!!.

The audience’s favorites are the maids’ duet, which attracts all the attention from the beginning of the show. The eerily synchronous appearance of the women wearing black and white aprons exemplary of Anastasia Lovina and Daria Fechin in the foreground from each side of the stage and knicks, bending coquettishly to their knees every time the scenography is changed , as well as the acting filigree, balancing on the narrow path of grotesque and genuine experience, give them the double meaning of infernal beings. It fits well with the style of the writer and the time he paints, when you can’t tell who was your friend and who was your enemy.

In the finale of the play, the defenders and dependent on the kindness of the people, Šarik sleeps on the top step of the stairs. Or can it be calm that there are no more operations for which no one asks for his consent?

Mikhail Chekhov at the Russian Theater of Riga 6.I at 19, 7.I at 18, 18.II at 19, 19.II at 17
Tickets Ticket service in the network EUR 15–30

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