Play without age or Quarter of a century ago
The Drama theater of the Belarusian army which not so long ago became the “resident” of a new building of the Central Officers’ Club, Minsk, the play “Soldiers” by Aleksey Dudarev was staged. According to the author and theater art director, his performance had no age
One actress, a friend of mine, has recently said, “No, it cannot be compared to that of Kupala theater… Just have a look at the decoration of Boris Gerlovan, I haven’t yet mentioned Sasha Denisov (the Honored Artist of Belarus — author’s note) and other actors who cannot be even compared to the young representatives of the army Theater…” Then I answered, “Just try not to compare.” Although even for me it was hard, but I tried to recall one event from the theatrical life of Belarus without trying to compare anything.
Dimes to doughnuts
25 years ago the first night of “Soldiers” by Valery Raevsky, performed at the stage of Kupala Theater, stroke many theatre-goers with its new approach to the war interpretation. I think that was the point where everything harmonized in the system of theatrical coordinates: original dramaturgy, stage direction, and acting techniques with all the stage elements — scenography, music, light. I should say that I felt almost knocked out — a cold shiver ran down my spine and tears fell from my eyes. I will never forget the last scene of the performance. Dramatic heat almost went off scale: practically all the characters successively brought to light their personal tragedy, caused by war, and died. The light dies out, the music grows silent. The audience sat unbreathing and astonished: what will happen next. And slowly at the back scene of the stage a screen appears with the hundreds of photographs, out of which the eyes of soldiers peer into the faces of people. Then came the final accord, almost blowing up the silence and the audience burst into applause shouting “bravo.” And that was not the end: soon after the first night the playwright and his performance was awarded the highest state award, the USSR State Prize.
Let us go back to the prehistory of the drama. In commemoration of the 40th anniversary of Victory the Ministry of Culture made the so-called social order to Alexey Dudarev, the playwright, who at that time was not that experienced. That means to reconsider the Great Patriotic War and write a play about the war but for one fact: without a glimpse of imprisonment, invaders, and loud slogans. That was exactly what he did — being 33 years old, he hit the mark creating a play about war soldiers.
As Alexey himself says, at that time up to the present he has always asked one question: how he, a person who is so far from all these tragic events, managed to go so deep into the human characters? The fact is that he managed it and it couldn’t be different. Indirectly Dudarev was also involved into these events: during all long war years his father was a soldier. Guard sergeant Anufri Iosifovich whose photo is hanging at the wall right over the worktable of Andrey, willingly tells about the war to his son. “It is a paradox, but for him,” Aleksey says, “it was the best time of his life as he was needed. He saved his Motherland and the whole world from evil. At that, I will repeat one thought (as one wise man said), “The army can win the battle, the army can lose it, but it is the folk who wins.” Soldiers. Such as his father.
Being a master of the words, with deep village roots, not used to hide the truth of life under the blanket of theater fiction about war, Dudarev managed to transform everything he ever heard about the war, saw in movies, read in books, and create true characters. Moreover, being a romantic, he used the ballade genre to raise his characters over the tough fundamentals of life and death. These were his Images of Victory soldiers which from that time served as an example for numerous actors of different theaters of the former Soviet Union. The play “Soldiers” was staged in more than 100 theaters. I even remember Aleksey mapping the towns where his play “won.” In Yanka Kupala Theater the performance was played more than a hundred of times. According to the theater rates, it is a very good result.
Here we are — “Soldiers” — a new theater, a new interpretation.
“In the 80s when I was young and naive, I used to think: in 20–30 years the play will be no longer crucial as the war theme will fade away but I was mistaken — the wars continue even now,” Dudarev meditates. “It’s scary that through our genes the memories about war and fear will be passing from generation to generation…”
Talking about genes, I recalled as my son, the grandson of the soldier of the Great Patriotic War, starting from three years old used to wake up crying “Mummy, I am afraid of war!” Only when I convinced him that the war was over, he calmed down. Then, being already a student, he told in detail about the dream he used to see very often, a terrible explosion, which used to scary him so much in childhood.
Its not only war topic that makes the play of Dudarev so modern. In this play, the author studies a very fragile phenomenon called human soul, searching for inner reasons, which can help to understand why in emergency situations a person behaves like this. And such topics are in great demand in theaters — a fact known to everyone, especially in such a specialized theater as Army Theater is. By the way, it was created under the resolution of the Minister of Defense, the colonel-general Leonid Maltsev five years ago and already captured attention of the theater community. Not a single first night stays in the shadows, moreover, the performance participates in various theater festivals and is rewarded. For example, a performance “Do you remember, Alesha…” at the 4th Moscow international festival of little theatres and small-scale performances “Slaviansky Venets,” devoted to the Victory of our nation in the Second World War, got the first prize as the best performance of the festival.
Theater of strong feelings
In our common past, in the Theater of young spectators, where I used to work as a pedagogue, and Alexey Anufrievich after graduation from Minsk theater-art institute, as an actor and at the same time literary director, I was interested: how he manages not only to leave the readers of his stories and plays not just moved, but also make us burst into tears? I remember that after the first night of the performance “Porog” in Kupala Theater, we, his friends and colleagues, left our autograph notes at the theatre bill, thus expressing our respect to Aleksey and the play itself. I quoted Pushkin and wrote, “Fiction will make me stream with tears…” However, for a long time I couldn’t find an answer to the question: why people cry at his performances: something was beyond my comprehension. Looking at Aleksey and his wife Valentina, I understood how passionately and emotionally he lives the lives of his characters: he cries, if the logic of dramatic narration motivates him to make his characters die, and bursts into laughing if someone of them makes him laugh.
In connection with Dudarev’s emotional perception of the strangers’ life, I recalled that once Vladimir Vysotsky answered the question on how he managed to go so deep into the characters of images created by him. He said that an actor should feel the same pain as his character dies. Possibly that was something similar to Dudarev when he wrote his plays. This is why, despite some dramaturgic faults like intrigue insufficiency, the final is not clear or something else, Dudarev does not err on the side of professionalism, nourished by overpowering sincerity of his performances, including “Soldiers.” If the actor plays his part in unison with the energy of a playwright, then it moves you deeply. And as the Army Theater always stakes on deep, open feelings, then the “Soldiers” (stage manager Igor Filchenkov) smoothly fit well into the theater repertory and next year there will be the 65th anniversary of the Great Victory (stage managers Marina Dudareva and Igor Filchenkov).
The play starts with a very nice prologue in which stage managers managed to combine information about the pre-war, war and after-war life of characters. Here it is — a stark “living” photograph of pre-war years, with happy faces (we will see them during the play) looking hopefully into the future. In a blink of an eye because of the thunder of cannon, the “picture” falls to pieces and each character takes its place in the line of the play, the plot develops in Germany right before the Victory. I should also stress the theater music of Vladimir Kondrusevich. As usually, he did his best: he fits into the play genre. Lyrical soulful mood, offered by the composer for “coloring” acting areas, where we see how interpersonal relationships open the characters, excellently corresponds to the ballad genre. Apart from that, these interpersonal relationships are of great importance to Dudarev, as through them we can see the tragedy of every single character. Thus, Dervoed (Victor Molchan) saw the invaders burning his son to death. Is it not strange that to Dervoed the playwright grants the life after all their comrades die? Everything is clear about Oduvanchik: he is young, he did not even know what gunpowder is, and Dervoed… Molchan portrays his character with such a steel face, absorbed by his pain and suffering and pictured using such poor gestures, and such pain which did not splash out, and you really got scared: how a person could manage to live his life with such a crippling burden? Nevertheless, Dervoed does not die. His soul is alive and that is why Dervoed has heart power enough to support other suffering, particularly Woman (Nadezhda Churilo), who, after her daughter dies, loses her mind. That means there is only thing left for a strong Belarusian — to live.
The Army Theater performance tells us not only about the way ordinary soldiers could stand out before Victory, but about their perplexity in this life after the Victory. How will they go on with their lives with such dead, burned by war lives? That is the global inner conflict, affecting almost all the characters. The stage managers try to make the main nerve of the performance vibrating all the way, even during the pauses when all the characters keep silent. It really does vibrate. The actors nobly and sincerely generate this energy expressing it in strong, open emotions of Sviatoslav Astramovich-Bushtets or in the energy of quieter Igor Filchenkov-Dugin. Andrey Mikhail Miliukhin acts in quite discreet, focusing only on internal feelings. According to the role created for this character, dedicated Solianic, it is perfect. The female structure of actors is perfect, every single young actress is leaded by the stage manager, of course under the control of the art director.
A woman and a war, according to Dudarev, are absolutely incompatible, unnatural — this thesis is reflected in the dreams of characters about love, children, and family. It is stridently, lightly reflected by the actress Polina Syrkina (Lidka). The war, as interpreted by Army theater, is even more frightful, as in touches upon the heart of life — love, trampling and burning everything that comes on the way: Dugin’s feelings and his wife Vera (Anna Yuzhakova), I. Bushtets, who went off to war from the wedding table and his wife Liuska (Evgenia Zhukovich), and he could not even say hello when he saw her returning back from imprisonment and who was pregnant at that time. Lidka died and didn’t manage even to open her heart to Oduvanchik. The road of war, paved with soldier boots and shoes protectors, acts as a symbol of grief and even trampling of the whole earth seized by war. As for me I shuddered internally, having noticed this technique: how closely artistic director Olga Matskevich captured the thought: the terrible war world poisoned everyone right and wrong, earth and life itself.
The topic of war in theaters, as I think, will be always crucial and it will contribute to creativity of those, who are not indifferent. I think that the interest to the topic will pass from generation to generation, that is why the attention of playwrights and writers to the Victory of our people phenomenon will not vanish, which first of all involved people. And, as you know, nothing can be more interesting for a person than a person itself.
P.S. Not long ago military forces of the country commemorated the 90th anniversary of Red Banner Belarusian military district. The party finished with the first night of “Please do not leave me” where the war theme was opened through female characters — soldiers, by the way. Veterans of the Great Patriotic War and the audience rose in applause and then listened attentively to the art director of the theater, who thanked for a very valuable present — new building of the theater.