Finita la Commedia
Gesher Theatre, Tel Aviv, Israel
premiere 3 July 2013
Stage adaptation and
Nikolai Erdman's "The Suicide"
180 min., with intermission
"Limber-up!": Boris Portnoy (violin), Henry David (doublebass), Ilya Myagkih (guitar), Yuval Yanai (banjo), Pavel Davidovich (persussions)
Alon Friedman, Neta Spiegelmann, Natasha Manor, Vitaliy Fuks, Noah Koller, Yuval Yanai, Ruth Rassyuk, Nikolay Tuberosvskiy, Orey Yaniv, Shir Shenar, Careen Seruya, Barr Sade, Svetlana Demidova, Henry David, David Sisselsohn, Lyussy Dubinchik, Maxim Rosenberg
"The Suicide" is most probably the play that faced the communist censorship the longest - 60 years of ultimate ban. The text was written in 1928 and first staged in 1987 in the USSR. It is called "The Government Inspector" of the XX-th century and Erdman is often compared with Gogol and Sukhovo-Kobylin. Two theatres are competing in staging the play - Meyerhold's Theatre and MXAT (Moscow Art Academy Theatre). Meyerhold, Stanislavsky, Lunacharsky, Gorky and Bulgakov all unite in support of "The Suicide" but all efforts prove to be futile.
Erdman wrote the play at the age of 28 and it is his last play. In 1933 he is exiled in Eniseisk for "counterrevolutionary literary works" and later released under special regime - he is deprived of his right to establish in any of the 10 big cities in the USSR, including Moscow. In spite of that, he is the scriptwriter of some of Stalin's favourite films - "Merry Boys" and "Volga, Volga". His name, though, is erased from the titles of those films. In 1948 he receives the Stalin premium award "Brave Men" but this is not considered as a legitimate reason to lift the ban from "The Suicide". The play, unfortunately, matches the Israeli reality in 2013 when almost every man is challenged both physically and morally while the surrounding keeps exploiting his misery in a cynical manner.
A Russian black comedy of the twenties, 'The Suicide' satirises the plight of an unemployed man, desperate enough to contemplate ending it all. The play considers the nature of humour; the hearts of the self-centred characters who will use anyone to further their own selfish aims; and the triumph of the individual, who keeps his dignity in a society where the slogan "for each and all" echoes emptily. For Semyon, only the prospect of death can give the individual the freedom to act and speak as he wishesAll that, and it is still a very funny play.
~ Jo German
Semyon Semyonich Podsekalnikov is an ordinary man fighting life's difficulties as best as he can. Unfortunately, he has been unsuccessful so far as he is jobless and moneyless. He shares a household with his wife and her mother and conflicts are often, though love and affection are clearly part of this family. Semyon has a dream of which his wife and to some extent his mother-in-law are supportive - he wants to learn to play the tuba. This dream is a promise of a better life, full of money, fame and happiness, but most importantly - a life that will permit him to take good care of his family. He is so obsessed with the idea that his wife manages to save some money and rents a tuba for him to practice. Practice turns into a disaster - he is unable to produce even a single tone, let alone a certain note or a whole musical phrase. He follows the instructions in the booklet about reaching exact notes and comes to know that in order to continue practicing he would need to buy a piano. The prohibiting price of a second musical instrument throws him back to even more severe depression and Semyon decidedly attempts suicide. But he is startled by a man in the room. The noble stranger turns out to be sent as a speaker of the intellectual elite with the mission to convince Semyon to not simply kill himself, but to kill himself for a cause and turn his own death into a symbolic act of protest against the miserable state of the Russian intellectual elites.
The news that there is a man who is decided to commit suicide spreads rapidly. People representing all kinds of professions and causes are now coming to visit Semyon and trying to convince him to kill himself in the name of all sort of ideas - in the name of romantic love, in the name of Venus, in the name of the butchery, etc. Those guests are so convincing and needy that they even agree to certain compromises: they are all going to have their suicide notes signed by Semyon who ends up signing 18 of them. He is promised the best possible celebration of his act, beforehand of course, as well as that his family will be taken good care of.
In the heat of the party when he is supposed to shoot himself Semyon suddenly realises that "life begins 30 min. before we die". Severely drunk, he manages to escape the enthusiastic crowd and hides behind a tree where he produces a misleading gunshot and falls into sleep drunk. In the meanwhile his wife and mother-in-law receive the news that Semyon Semyonich is now dead and his suicidal act is highly appreciated by the society and its causes, and he will be given an honourable burial - one that a heroe of his grandeur deserves. The funeral procession brings in the coffin with the "dead" man inside and leaves it at the house until the ceremony begins.
What a surprise it is for the two grieving women when the man raises from his coffin-comfort with a terrible hangover and truely convinced that he is dead and standing in front of heaven's door!
A production full of laughter, sadness, social responsibility, deep philosophy and, not least, love for life as difficult as it might be.
"I liked literally everything about this production - from the perfect cast and their performance on stage, to the world-scale director. Once again - the set design, but also the effect of Semyon going for a smoke on the street, out in the cold night under the falling snow. Thank you for the excellent theatre evening!"
"After two successful productions - "Dom Juan" and "Prima Donna" - the Bulgarian director Alexander Morfov returns to Gesher Theatre to stage a spectacular and colourful production full of surprises and deep sense, calling for social justice, or simply for shared compassion. I am continuingly under its powerful influence days after seeing the show and don't even know where to begin, but I know that everything I want to say is certainly positive."
"The main thing about this production is not that it's funny but what exactly it makes fun of. I cannot but stress how much I enjoyed the atmosphere of the show, the classical average soviet "scum", presented with ease and understanding. The costumes, the conversations, the sheets in stead of curtains, and all those numerous details - so familiar from the recent soviet past and so distant from the younger generations - all of this certainly had class. Erdman's presence on Israeli stage was more than organic."
A Suicide in Israel | britmila.livejournal.com, 30.11.2013