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The Mass Media

In Soviet Russia, Character Plays You

I really enjoyed that the Boston Conservatory passed out a few articles detailing the historical background of this play. Basically, theatre companies in the Soviet Union went from being highly restricted but government funded under communism to having artistic freedom but struggling to turn a profit in the new capitalist dog-eat-dog system. The story is about such a theatre company that thrived in the Soviet system but now must compromise its artistic integrity (by trying to turn Chekov’s Three Sisters into a Hollywood-esque sexed-up blockbuster with musical numbers and only two sisters) in a fight to survive.

So here’s the conflict: the new capitalist thinking Boris, the producer of the theatre company who sleeps with the young 18-year-old starlet Nina while his kids and wife are at the hospital being treated for some unknown stomach flu or something, battles with Sergey, the director, in order to change the Chekov play into a more commercial success. Sergey I guess represents the communist side of things, nobly refusing to compromise his values. Except he does. So does everyone. As if to suggest capitalism destroys everything.

Then again, all the characters representing the communist side of the battle are so morally terrible that I simply don’t understand the point that the play was trying to make. Maybe that all forms of monetary government suck? Yet there’s no way around it, and this play doesn’t suggest an alternative route around the trash bin of change.

The script attempts to convey a great many symbols and themes, yet they all fall flat. In fact, that’s the only thematic regularity about this play: everything falls flat due to an inflation of ideas through an unregulated overabundance of concepts. So many concepts are thrown into the idea bubble that it all pops. Perhaps the actual writing of the script was an attempt at performance art in a satire of the recent economic meltdown.

Character development feels forced and unbelievable; characters you at first think you’re supposed to like get trashed in act two and are just completely exempt from empathy. Characters you aren’t supposed to like in the beginning gain certain sympathy, but too little too late. All the characters end up single-planar, appearing like puppets costumed by the will of the writer to suit his ultimate purpose of pushing some kind of progressive anti-establishment message.

Let me just paraphrase a scene that I think sums up my feelings about this play entirely. Sasha, a former electrician who is fired when budgets become low, comes back from the provinces where he’s turned to a life in organized crime to find that his ex-girlfriend Nina has been sleeping with Boris:

Sasha: You’ve been sleeping with Boris, you lush. Now I’m going to shoot him.

Nina: Yeah, well you left me all alone, you eunuch. I needed love from somewhere.

Sasha: Fair enough, but I haven’t seen you in six months and haven’t sent any correspondences, yet I expected you to be completely faithful to our relationship which has since forth been little but sexual.

Nina: Well, put the gun away and let’s go up to my dressing room to do the nasty-bump.

Sasha: Ok.

Nina: Sweet!

Sasha: Hey! You remember in the first act when we were both totally likeable and believable people?

Nina: No. But I remember those scenes were I had my pants off.

Sasha: Yeah, that was totally awesome.

But it all falls flat. Each character is written with the intention of being a protagonist and antagonist, so as to diminish the room for any true developments in any individual. No actor is of notoriety, except for the player of Ludmilla who may have learned her acting technique from junior high school productions and has made little effort to reconcile her development into the adult world. The singing at the end was good. But, like I said before, too little too late and just too much to stomach.