UNTITLEDVolkov Drama Theatre
Directed by Yevgeny Marchelli
This is one of Chekhov’s early plays (Platonov) seen through the eyes of one of the very best Russian directors. Yevgeny Marcelli has worked in many theatres, but wherever he goes - in Tilsit, or Omsk, and now in Yaroslavl - his performances are always real events.
The long introduction of the performance with visitors coming to the estate of a wealthy landowner and the growing seeds of a future scandal is played out on a narrow strip of the proscenium in front of a drawn curtain. The general’s wife, a headstrong beauty, orders about her admirers, servants run around the room with champagne, and some of the guests are already a little drunk. But in comes the nervously cheerful Platonov, who is brilliantly played by Evgeniy Kishchenko, and all the characters forget about honor, shame and marital fidelity for a while. Platonov is in no way a seducer, he needs nobody and he is tired of everything, but it is this apathy and irritability, along with his permanent charm that attracts the women in Marcelli’s performance.
Varied in style, modern in intonation and aesthetic in form, UNTITLED is not about love or its absence. It is not about feelings at all, despite the endless flirting and infidelity. Platonov, as played by Kishchenko, inherently needs two things - peace and freedom. And these are exactly what wives and mistresses want to take away from him, and why, in the end, a man accustomed to taking risks becomes a spineless creature, incapable even of dying.
Marcelli’s energetic fantasy and freedom are based on the knowledge of very specific, recognizable human reactions – Chekhov's play seems to have been written about people of today, not yesterday. Some of the play has been re-written, but it is not about the text, it’s a matter of intonation.
I already staged the Fatherless (Untitled) 20 years ago, and do not really understand why it is considered incomplete, imperfect. I think it is the most interesting of Chekhov's plays. It is unpolished and therefore so passionate. There is a special flavor in the looseness of life material, the play is made of. However, my perception of the theater has changed dramatically since then. Then I considered Chekhov’s works as realistic drama, written sometimes in a rollicking young enthusiasm of a young man, and a bit boringly sometimes. Therefore, the performance came out very casual, where everything happening seemed true to life, and now I consider it even as a different genre. The things that seemed tragic then, look like a farce now, in which the protagonist provokes a situation that literally all the characters, men and women, harass and torment him. Also Platonov has matured since. Then he was a young man eager to live, conquer women’s hearts, wishing the whole world to belong to him, without being substantial enough for that. This is his youthful maximalism and irresponsibility. Now I want it to be a different story, a story of a man, to whom responsibility is clear at once, from the very beginning. As soon as he shows interest in the subject of his conquest, he immediately knows that it will have a sad end. I want him to artificially create his own suffering, because it is some way to get a taste and meaning of life. So begins his intentional hara-kiri, his conscious "bloodletting". He suffers, but he also enjoys it.
Marcelli prefers to set up and cultivate his own aesthetic niche: with the eternal confrontation of the male and female, with longing for the lost beauty and harmony. Sometimes his performances look like sort of sensual and aesthetic sketches. Sometimes they intuitively hit the very nerve of a Russian man’s current world perception.
Marcelli intentionally ages Platonov. It is one thing to fool around tortured by the questions of one’s own destiny after leaving the university classroom, when life is still ahead. It’s another thing when you are far over forty and your search clearly leads nowhere. Here uncertainty begins to border on despair. The director makes female frustration collide with male inability, at the same time, adding a farcical perception to it, depriving it of pathetic sentiment.
The farcical story proves to be frightening and truthful, without reverence and compromise, it is a curious projection of our current search for any "hero" that also turns into global uncertainty.
Marcelli makes such an operation on Chekhov’s first untitled play, full of social and intimate human micro disasters, that the 18-year-old playwright was apparently unable to perform. He reduces the raw life material, the "black earth" of Taganrog, to a series of local love conflicts with an ordinary schoolteacher Platonov in the center. And in this locality, Marcelli finds an inexhaustible wealth of acting potentials, a variety of emotion clots.
There are many buffoon, farcical elements in Marcelli’s performance. The UNTITLED, through its verbosity and ridiculous situations, prompts a genre solution more than any other of Chekhov's plays. And Marcelli strengthens this farcical side of the play by bringing a small orchestra playing rollicking tunes at the moments of melodramatic tension.
In Marcelli’s performance all women are strong, even the strange ones, and the men are hopelessly weak and comical. Platonov himself sometimes resembles all the favorite characters of Soviet films, such as the Autumn Marathon or the Forgotten Melody for the Flute - ironic, funny, awkward. It is impossible to imagine a beautiful love scene with such Platonov, so the women's ineradicable passion, on the one hand, becomes funnier here, and more tragic, on the other. As such love means completely black loneliness.