All images by Ctibor Bachratý

A MAN FROM PODOLSK

Teatr.doc, Moscow, RUSSIA

Playwright: Dmitry Danilov

Direction: Michail Ugarov, Igor Stam
Set: Olga Kovaleva
Light and sound: Igor Pernikov
Photofilm: Otto Lakoba
Assistant director: Zarema Zaudinova
Cast: Svetlana Amerikanceva / Daria Gainullina, Igor Stam, Anton Iljin, Viktor Kuzin, Andronik Chačijan, Matvej Kakovkin

 

What I Saw

 

Teatr.doc’s production of A Man from Podolsk won its author Dmitry Danilov “Best Playwright” at the Golden Mask Festival and was the final production directed by company founder Mikhail Ugarov. In a Moscow police station, three officers question Nikolai about his morning absolutions, his job as a newspaper editor, his love life, and his feelings about his hometown of Podolsk. Gradually it is revealed that Nikolai’s crime is sleepwalking through his own life. 

The play recalls Russia’s history of its secret police and detaining citizens for innocuous or non-existent crimes while simultaneously turning this paradigm on its head. These police are educated, cultured, and seemingly invested in their captive appreciating his environment and living his best life– to not do so would be unpatriotic. Is this a critique of the millennial existence – dissatisfied, lazy, entitled, with no connection to their history and community? Or an indictment of a “thought police” who are now coming after our heads and hearts? This sharp satire leaves the answers up to us. 

Teatr.doc was founded by Ugarov with his wife, dramaturg Elena Germina, both of whom passed away in 2018. Actor Igor Stam, who is also the production’s associate director, described it as a theatre of dramaturgy, fostering new work and writers, and bringing many previously unknown playwrights to the fore, including Danilov. The company is credited with founding the “new Russian drama,” nurturing directors, and speaking truth to power, which has forced them to relocate. Other principles of Teatr.doc include minimal tech and design – they do not use microphones, costumes, or stage design, thereby focusing primarily on the actor and the text. The primary organizing principle of Teatr.doc is a theatre of the mind that co-exists with actors. 

This same principle has been applied to A Man From Podolsk. The play was developed with Danilov, who wrote it in several weeks, though he had worked on the basic idea for several years. The impulse for the piece was to look for beauty where it didn’t appear to be. His process is based on observation – arriving in a small city and getting to know it by talking to ordinary people, taking notes, and building a text. 

Another theme the play explores is the psychological violence employed by police. In A Man from Podolsk we see a “Gandhi-like” resistance to this violence by Nikolai and a fellow arrested man. The piece and its absurd situations have resonated with audiences of post-communist countries in particular.  Stam mentioned that a known director pitched the play in Hollywood and was told that it would not have the same resonance in the United States, since people can seek legal recourse and cannot be held by the police without reason. 

Teatr.doc’s manager, Victoria Kholodova, noted that in addition to its political resonances the play has a personal, human theme running through it, the consequences of living on autopilot. The police, in turn, are delivering a wake-up call to look at the world around you. This view of the police is one of the absurdist elements of the play, as they are the ones showing “the right way” to live. 

According to Stam the company used a technique called “Zero Position” to work with the actors. The process is not Stanislavsky-based but rather uses the text as motivation. The audience plays a key role as well in their work. They acknowledge and establish a relationship with the audience – occasionally breaking the fourth wall with sly winks and treating them as participants and even co-creators in their roles as witnesses. This principle is reflected in Teatr.doc’s space in Moscow, where they do not separate the audience from the action and perform under house lights. 

The play has been performed by various companies all over Russia but festival curator Ján Šimko believes this original production to remain the best iteration. In Teatr.doc’s version the violence grows out of casualness, giving it a tension that other productions have lacked. Šimko also appreciated the “great text” and while the festival has hosted previous Teatr.doc plays that are more in line with the company’s typical documentary style, this one seemed more accessible for non-Russian audiences. The play also represents one of the few examples of new, contemporary drama in the mosaic of plays offered at Divadelná Nitra this season. 

About the Artist

Michail Ugarov (1956 – 2018)

a playwright, theatre and film director, lecturer, initiator of the Russian ‘New Drama’ movement, the founder and artistic director of Moscow’s Teatr.doc and director of Theatre CDR. He graduated from the A. M. Gorky Literary Institute in Moscow, where he specialized in drama. He authored several plays, the most notable of which include Oblom-off, whose 2003 production earned the main award at the Golden Mask festival in Moscow. Ugarov has directed a number of documentary productions at Teatr. doc, including September.doc (2005) about the Beslan school terrorist attack, Two in Your House (staged at Divadelná Nitra 2012) or Hour Eighteen (2012). He also wrote screenplays for Russian TV series such as The Petrograd Secret (1996), Churchill (2011) and others.

For A Man from Podolsk, the play’s author Dimitry Danilov earned the title Best Playwright at the Golden Mask festival 2018. He dedicated the prize to director Michail Ugarov, who died unexpectedly two weeks before the award ceremony.

© 2020 by CITD.