All images by Alexey Gushin
Enough Stupidity in Every Wise Man
By Alexander Ostrovsky . Directed by Boris Milgram
What I Saw
Russians have special attitude to Alexander Ostrovsky – so much less famous than Chekhov or even Gorky in the West, at home he’s worshiped as the father of national drama and theater art in general. His 47 original plays (plenty of relatives he had to feed) still very much form the repertoire of theaters around the country. Among his works, WISE MAN is one of the top popular, telling the story of a smartass manipulator trying to wriggle his way into high society. Author is much more critical about the high society itself than about the main character, so the play keeps attracting generations of directors by opening possibilities for political criticism while also avoiding naming names of the current rulers.
Same as in A MONTH IN THE COUNTRY, Milgram chooses playful acting approach, while going much further with it this time. Lora Kvint (also composer of the DWARF) creates a number of songs, pretty much turning a play into a musical or a vaudeville - as it’s announced in the program; a number of clownish interludes invented by Milgram complete the picture: Ostrovsky’s irony turns into satire, and characters become even more dell’arte-like than in the script. The set develops from Act 1 “poor-theater” (below), into the rich rotating structure of Act 2 (above), again emphasizing director’s favorite approach of gradual immersion into the theatrical act.
Yet, in the very final scene the colorful theatricality disappears again with the full turn-around of the construction above, now exposing its black metal bare bones. By this last gesture Milgram is returning audience back to the ground and into the rather sad and sober final scene of the play, where characters are quite cynical and pragmatic, and sure not so fun anymore. At this moment, somewhat tired of the excessive musical-theater energy, I felt rewarded by being sent back to the simple but core message of the play – legitimate members of the high society are much scarier than the (oh, so evil) swindler trying to take advantage of them.