Eric R. Samuelsen
Pardoe Theater, Brigham Young University (Provo, UT), 19 March - 5 April 2003.
There's a new play by an LDS playwright which you guys should go see,if you're close enough to Utah to get to it. But watching it is notany kind of easy experience, and while I won't forget it for awhile, Idon't think I'm going to be sleeping much the next few days, either.
Leeanne Hill Adams is a former student of mine. She wrote it in oneclass I taught, and workshopped it in another class. She's a goodfriend, in other words, and I'm not very objective about her play.
Anyway, Archipelago tells the story of the men and women who Stalinsent to the Gulag back in the thirties, who tried to survive Siberianwinters and insane work requirements, and who mostly didn't. TheGulag prisoners were very often intellectuals and artists, and whilein prison, some of them wrote poetry or novels, and some of them didtheatre. Specifically, a group of them staged that classic of Russiansatire, Gogol's The Inspector General. That production provides themain structure for the play.
The approach taken to these materials is essentially Meyerholdian.The play mixes grotesque comedy with narration and scenes that arecloser to realism. Stalin is a character, and the play satirizes thePolitburo, then it'll cut to a woman describing her rape at the handsof prison guards. And back and forth.
The production is a bit flawed. The satirical scenes aren't edgyenough, and the emotional scenes can get a bit sentimental, andoverall, the play is quite didactic, and didactic in sort of obviousways. It uses media elements effectively, but they have a tone that'sa bit at odds with the rest of the piece.
And none of that matters much. It's a shattering emotionalexperience, watching this play. Watching the audience leave at theend of each performance, there's this absolute silence, as thougheveryone's thinking that even talking about it would be somehowirreverant.
I have to say this too. The fact that we're at war right now effectshow we view this play. I don't think it matters if you support thewar or are against it. I mean, emotionally, I have this constantmaelstrom of emotion just under the surface, a mixture of anger andanxiety and fear and tension and worry, and I think those feelings areshared by a lot of people. And then you watch something like this,and it ends up not mattering much what we think of the war; whatmatters is what we're feeling. And in some ways, Archipelago assaultsyou, bears witness to the death and despair of the Gulag and then says'don't you dare forget us, don't you dare forget what happened here.'You feel almost violated by the production, frankly. Intentionally, Ithink, because going to see it, it's like being required to undergo atiny fraction of what they went through.
So you may not want to, and nobody could blame you if you didn't. Atthe same time, it's really something extraordinary. It runs throughthe end of next week. Love to see you there.
© 2003 Eric R. Samuelsen < firstname.lastname@example.org >