Alexei Dudarev: “Real Experience is Bitter...”

The Kupala Drama Theater is finishing its season with a wonderful production of Alexei Dudarev’s “Evening” directed by Valery Rayevsky
The Kupala Drama Theater is finishing its season with a wonderful production of Alexei Dudarev’s “Evening” directed by Valery Rayevsky. The play had its premiere and encores twenty years ago, but it only took a slightly changed version and a new production to make this story about three old men in a remote village exciting enough to gather full houses again. Alexei Dudarev is a professional in everything that can be called a simple story that for some strange reason makes your heart go faster. His best plays and movie scripts — “Choice”, “Privates”, “Threshold”, “Belye Rosy” — are as unsophisticated as a glass of water that is essential to quench our thirst. “Evening” is one of those gulps of fresh water that leaves you in warmth and light for some time after you walk out of the theater. Such an exquisite feeling of subtlety in this world of globalization and mass consumption. So my first question to Alexei Dudarev is impractical and even philosophical.

— Is there any sense in “pure beauty”? Or is the form devoid of any sense?

— What is “pure beauty” — the 90–60–90 measurements? Pure proportions? The longer I live the stronger the feeling I have that beauty is a sort of inner emanation. This is inspiration, from the word “spiro”, which means to “breathe in”. Beauty is like a breath.

— According to the well-known philosopher Jean Baudrillard, society will exist as long as it respects unwritten laws as much as written ones. Don’t you think modern society challenges the sacred things and cross the limits? Take the recent “The da Vinci Code”, for instance.

— There are Christian values, there are anti-Christian values, when Christ is downed to the level of writers. I don’t like taboos and bans, but I hate those who don’t respect other people’s faith even more. Art is to be interesting in a different way, it should be a form of dialogue. I agree or I might disagree, but there is some response. But when they simply wish to shock me…

— I am looking forward to the moment when society gets tired of mass culture and turns to something new.

— Yes, it is high time this happened. I am so sick of it. The real art is without limits, and it is unfathomable. The real art is love and God. Mass culture is using some tricks, some common features that form various sets, but there is a limited number of clichйs, and they cannot be interesting for eternity. I saw a naked woman once that was dancing while covered in caviar. What is the conclusion? A real man builds a house — in the philosophical sense, while this thing is …

— I guess your academic theater has got tired of cheap entertainments that they have been trying to impose on the theater. Viewers were lured into the theater instead of being invited to have a dialogue. The most recent premiere in the Kupala Theater — that of your “Evening” was a sort of revelation. The old play sounds very modern and urgent. It has some biblical eternity in it. The director Valery Rayevsky managed to find the very tune the play needs now and made it the subheader of the play — the requiem.

— That’s the thing! And what do you see on stage? There is no stage direction — it seems so, at least. And the dйcor is simple. The actors seem to be just saying words, they are not playing at all. Is there anything new in their words for you? You have heard this a thousand times, you have discussed these things a thousand times, but you won’t be able to tear your eyes away from the stage. I have experienced success, but to see every viewer jump to his feet at the end of the performance was rather unexpected: there is no cue at the end of the play, in fact, it ends in a very intimate way. An actress that was sitting among the usual public told me one of the “nouveau riche” viewers said to his neighbor “I want all the guys to see this!”

— I also felt overwhelmed by some inexplicable need to share my impressions with the close ones. I even felt I had some light in me after the show.

— I met with my viewers, and they tell me “You talk to us like to normal people. There is no filth!” This creative impotence is often made up by some clownery. Oh, my… “A Naked Cheerleader”! We must go, guys! [A show by Moscow’s Sovremennik Theater — Ye.M]. I will never go, this is filthy and silly.

— What are your impressions of this theater season that is coming to its end?

— It has been quite good. The success of Nikolai Pinigin’s “Symon-Muzyka” in the Kupala Theater and “Fat Job” of Arkady Kats in the Russian Theater mean something, don’t they? You need a basis, some kind of foundation that theater as an art has been successfully neglecting for over ten years now. “Nothing grows on nothing”, some wise man said. If this basis is written by men that were suffering, laughing, crying and thinking when working for theater, the viewers will be doing the same. If not, theater turns into some ridicule. In the west I saw a director that was making actors walk on the wall. Why do you need it? This is technique, it has nothing to do with theater, so why walk on walls? Let’s get back to “Evening”. The music, the words, the set all work for the actor, and the actor works for his viewers, which makes the stage and audience the same body.

— This success was unpredicted and unexpected, I should say…

— I never had any doubts that this would work, but I did not expect it would be so great, I must admit. I am particularly happy that great actors got good roles: Ovsyannikov, Garbuk, Zubkova, Mironova, Podobed. At the same time a feel detached from the play. I wrote it when I was 32, but I haven’t made any major changes. There were some minor alterations required by time, so we got some sort of a requiem, a good-bye poem. We tell good-bye to a life where a person was part of nature.

— What’s happening to your favorite child, the Army Theater? Viewers are at a loss — no posters, no premieres.

— We don’t even have our own stage now. The government gave us some money to redecorate it, but I think we will keep working in the Officers’ House for another two years.

— Do you have a full-scale company there?

— I do. And as the art director, I can give my guys a hand when they need to load or unload equipment and the stage set. The best thing is that they all come to work eagerly and their faces are happy. Although we have only two shows now — “Don’t leave me” and “You remember, Alyosha”, we aim for more. The next piece is the plastic show “Romeo and Juliette” staged by Marina Dudareva (she is not related to Alexei — Ye.M.).

— It seems to me that formally the idea of the Army Theater is not so popular, but it must all depend on the quality of the repertory.

— We all follow clichйs, or rather, some imposed images. The Army Theater or the Theater of Trade Unions — the names don’t matter, because the main thing is whether they have art there or not. We had two plays about the war — you should have seen teenagers listening to every word. “I’m gonna go and give my grandpa a kiss,” one kid said after the show. Art cannot be manageable — that’s another thing. Back in Soviet times the wish of the author could have been crossed out by the label “unconstructive”. But once the truth has been removed, lies start prevailing. So in Gogol’s plays you have a devil jump into the room and you believe it, and in other plays you get “Masha and her friend decided to dedicate their lives to the kolkhoz” — this seems constructive, but you don’t believe it.

— Do you agree that the Belarusian theatrical process is too calm? People would like more prominent premieres, if not experiments.

— You can never have enough of good things. And you can never fill the whole repertory of, say, the Kupala Theater with such plays as “Evening”. I don’t want to boast, but people don’t need so many plays like this one. A person can’t spend all his life praying, unless he is a monk, a man needs a street, bazaar, an inn. And a theater, of course. Theater is the reflection of life — it is funny, sad, holy and unholy at the same time.

by Yelena Molochko
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