THE YEAR WHEN I WASN'T BORNTabakov Theatre, Moscow
Viktor Rozov was a symbol of the "Thaw" movement in Russian theatre. Following the Moscow Sovremennik (Contemporary) theatre heroes, everyone in the 1950s was carried away by "Rozov’s boys", sincerely and passionately defending their dignity. In films, Rozov became famous thanks to Kalatozov’s film The Cranes Are Flying, based on his play Eternally Alive.
The director, Konstantin Bogomolov, a major figure in Russian theatre in recent years has updated one of Rosov’s later works The Capercailye`s Nest. A serious generational conflict is taking place in the family of a high-ranking Soviet establishment member (nomenklatura), and Rosov’s main concern is to show the erosion of conscience, as a person is slowly eaten away at over the years. Bogomolov has restructured and edited the text to focus not only on the story of family disintegration, but also the disintegration of life in Russia during years of hopeless stagnation. A large apartment is constructed on the main stage of the Moscow Art Theatre, where the production occurs, and the lifes of its inhabitants are absolutely visible to us: the back rooms are shown from above with the help of video, and the action in the front rooms takes place simultaneously. Life, objects, clothes and daily routines from the Soviet era are disrupted by phantasmagoria like the dance of a pioneer girl or blood in a poppy field. Bogomolov has built corridors of historical memory by inventing an individual, who couldn’t actually have been born in that fateful year, as described in the play title, because his mother had an abortion.
The Capercailye`s Nest is a straightforward and an unambiguous play. Bogomolov has "cleaned it up" well, by cutting all absolutely intolerable Soviet details and slightly softening the slogan pathos in the remaining remarks. Bogomolov clearly wants to turn the story of a functionary, Stepan Alexeyevich Sudakov, whose family was joined by a son-in-law, a crafty careerist Yegor into a stage version of the House on the Embankment, and expects to add Trifonov’s subtlety with the help of good actors and intricate direction.
The stagnation year of 1978 when the play was written is fundamentally important for Bogomolov and he announces it the time of action. He called the production THE YEAR WHEN I WASN'T BORN and no matter how this titled may be interpreted, it is important that it represents the opinion of people unfamiliar with stagnation. Bogomolov himself, who was three in 1978, feels entitled to speak both on behalf of stagnation period generations and those who came later.
Oleg Tabakov plays the part of Sudakov not just as a stupid and complacent old careerist, but rather as a simple-hearted high-ranking lord, who isn’t really evil and loves his family very much. An additional connotation is brought in by the part of Sudakov’s son, a sixteen year old Prov, played by Tabakov’s youngest son Pavel, a freshman at Tabakov’s Moscow Theatre School. At first this foppish major in school uniform, and then a nervous introverted kid blurting out his text in an indifferent patter, acts in the performance as an obvious object of memories and love for another irreconcilable "Rozov’s boy", played by Tabakov 55 years ago in the Sovremennik (Contemporary)Theatre. Natalia Tenyakova in the part of Natalia Gavrilovna, Sudakov's wife, was also far removed from the character of Rozov’s "powder-woman" with a craving for justice since the years spent at the front. Tenyakova plays a quiet and intelligent wife, softening, protective, guiding, and supporting at the time of downfall. The couple are real “old-world landowners” among the Soviet high and mighty.
Next to the placid old functionary Sudakov, who has preserved some remaining idea of decency since his years at the front, the thirty-year old intriguer Yegor looks like an accomplished cynic. But according to Bogomolov, he also has some human features in comparison with his twenty-year-old colleague, Zolotorev, whose joyful Komsomol immorality knows no shame. By building this bureaucratic evolution ladder where each generation becomes more cynical, the director seems to be saying: these are the people who still rule the country and whose replacement goes on climbing up the same steps.
Performance is based on Viktor Rozov’s play The Capercailye`s Nest which takes place in 1978. The playwright sensitively captured the musty atmosphere of beginning stagnation, hypocrisy of double standards that parents adapted to, having acquired some kind of material well-being, but which suffocate their children born in vegetarian times without immunity. It is normal to repeat now that these times are coming back. Konstantin Bogomolov, no matter whether he produces The Seagull, Wonderland-80 or Lear, insistently repeats that they have never ended. Rozov’s family drama gave him the opportunity of presenting an irrefutable proving system, both in everyday life, and on a historical level. How subtly, with cinematic authenticity play the actors in the form of reality show, passing from the theater space to close-ups of the constantly following camera, as proposed by the director. How do they manage not to sever the thread linking the characters in their relationships for a second. It is this very method that allows them to say much at the moments when they keep silent.
Family scenes are accompanied by TV that is always on with Kobzon’s voice, footage of "Wholeheartedly" program or vigorous broadcasting from the Column Hall coming from it. Iskra’s confession that she has had an abortion ("in the year when I was not born") is accompanied by a story about growing peonies. As it always happens, there is one thing in life and quite a different one coming out of the “box” (TV). Suddenly, the director throws us from the past of the characters into their future. Sudakov’s son-in-law and his colleague breathing down his neck come to the forefront in the literal and figurative sense. Two Komsomol careerists look dreamily into the year of 2000 against the background of a red fluttering flag. But we in the audience know that their dreams have come true.
The object of Bogomolov’s criticism is certainly not "sovok” (Soviet Union), but today's Russia - or, to be precise, today's Russia as flesh and blood of the cynical and destructive "sovok."
To understand the present, Konstantin Bogomolov used the drama by a Soviet classic the playwright Viktor Rozov. The play is about disintegration, a boomerang that always comes back, and that one reaps what he sows. If you sow dead seeds, you get rotten sprouts.
It is in this play that the dangerous topic of generations’ continuity has appeared on our stage for the first time: nobody has built in our consciousness a bridge between yesterday and today with such a murderous straightforwardness yet. The country of victorious rednecks seems to have made a historic tumble in time and returned to its starting point - to Bunin's "cursed days," to the dictatorship of human decay.
The New Times
By making all of us feel just like characters of a post-Soviet epilogue, Bogomolov will accurately follow the fate of each Rozov’s chick from The Capercailye`s Nest. The director will sentence to death the overly conscientious of Sudakov’s offspring, and draw an attractive future for the scoundrels.
("By the 70th anniversary of the Victory, Vasya, the whole country will belong to us!").