19.14Moscow Art Theatre
Director: Alexander Molochnikov
Choreographer: Irina Kashuba
Set designer: Nikolai Simonov
This Moscow Art Theatre production was made to commemorate the 100th anniversary of World War I, whose cruelty faded in comparison with the horrors of World War II breaking out only a little over thirty years later. Yet, it is World War I, with its technological advances and mechanisms of mass destruction, that triggered the process of human lives devaluation, gaining scale and scope in the coming decades.
The production brings World War I out of the abstract – in a carefree stand-up-style, actors talk about war in the trenches, about lice, effects of gas, the advantages of a pioneer spade as opposed to the bayonet in a hand-to-hand battle. Yet the production is not so much about one particular war, it is about how human identity is deformed in times of war; about the atmosphere in which wars start and flourish. And the genre of cabaret allows the century-long past to easily connect with the present seized by a new wave of militarism and belligerency.
…The proscenium is set with tables for the selected audience. The red curtain uncovers the festive space glowing with red lights. The set designer Nikolai Simonov turned the stage into a sophisticated acting instrument where every element is workable and transformable. The floorboards can instantly become grave pits. The red cube running on rails becomes the Archduke’s car or a death-inflicting military aircraft.
Modern Deus ex machine appears here in the guise of a jovial Entertainer. The actor literally dances through his starring role. He is on stage all the time changing from a professional patter to an unexpectedly confessional tone. He intervenes in every scene, pushing the action on; he slips the microphone into the hands of other characters saying: "You must sing, this is a cabaret!"; or lounging in a chair at a table right where the audience sit he casually refers to the audience: "They are dying over there, while we here can enjoy our dinner".
«New Izvestia» Newspaper
Three young Parisians with their wives, a couple of German intellectuals and a blunt Bavarian patriotic peasant are willing to go to war to fight for their country. And only the young German boy, redneck Hans whose father insists on his going to the war, would not understand in what way and how the fate of the country is more important his than his one and only young life.
…The cabaret theatre seems to be the ideal genre to express the futility of war – think of the famous film with the same title). The authors of the production undoubtedly took into account the circumstances of the moment when the audience would watch the story that took place one hundred years ago. With an undisguised pleasure they play on the nerves of the people in the auditorium just barely touching the most painful topical subjects. The name "19.14" refers to both to the ill-fated year when the WWIr began and the time when theatre performances in Moscow usually begin.