The Drunken Ones
BY: IVAN VYRYPAEV
DIRECTED BY: JAVOR GARDEV
SET DESIGN: NIKOLA TOROMANOV
MUSIC: KALIN KIKOLOV
COSTUME DESIGN: SVILA VELICHKOVA
CHOREOGRAPHY: VIOLETA VITANOVA, IVAN BARNEV, LUISA GRIGOROVA-MAKARIEV, ANASTASIA LYUTOVA, PENKO GOSPODINOV, VLADIMIR PENEV, SVETLANA YANCHEVA, GERASIM GEORGIEV-GERO, VASILENA ATANASOVA, PETAR KALCHEV, BOYKO KRASTANOV, HRISTO PADEV, NIKOLA MUTAFOV, CHRISTINA KARAIVANOVA
FROM: LITTLE CITY THEATRE “OFF THE CHANNEL”
MAIN PROGRAM, BULGARIAN SELECTION
DATE ATTENDED: 6 JUNE 2019
What I Saw
With a 2018 Ikar award for best performance and best set design under its belt, The Drunken Ones is a contemporary Russian play, offering a hilarious take on love and relationships in a series of scenes reminiscent of Schnitzler’s La Ronde in their construction.
Every character in this play is drunk and celebrating a special occasion - a film festival curator celebrating his premiere, a bachelor party celebrating impending nuptials, two couples honoring a dead relative. The drunkenness functions not only as a source of great comedy; it opens the characters up to revealing their secrets, questioning their existential conditions, and experiencing the kind of spiritual revelations one can only have after a long night of heavy drinking (and thus often regrettably forgets). Relationships crumble and new ones are moulded as the characters shake off the veneer of the everyday and speak some Truth.
The stage was covered in gymnastics mats with a small pool of water at its center, which enabled the actors to fall all about the stage in their full faux drunken glory. The presence of water added a visceral element to the drunkenness; as the show progressed, the performers inevitably got wetter and wetter, contributing to their haggard, forlorn, and ever drunker appearance by the end of the performance. The upstage wall was a series of fully stocked bar shelves at least 10 feet high. Though a simple and static stage design, director Javor Gardev used it well throughout, always finding new stage pictures and effectively carving out what felt like new spaces for each scene.
It’s no small feat to maintain drunkenness on stage - no less to evolve believably through its myriad stages - and the performers confronted one of the major problems of theatricality - acting drunk - with gusto; with one exception, they were all impressively successful, particularly Vladimir Penev in the role of Gustav. Additionally, they all managed to exude robust and complex inner lives beneath their drunkenness, which is the most spectacular thing of all. Without the characters’ inner lives being so finely crafted, the production could’ve easily slid into dangerously monotonous territory, but everything stayed grounded, even when the text digressed into quasi-Chekhovian philosophizing.
Vacillating between absurdity and something like realism, the production offered a heartfelt good time while espousing its own kind of existential philosophy. I would be thrilled to see The Drunken Ones join the ranks of those plays that circulate amongst regional theatres in America. It would fit in well with their typical fare while offering something that’s contemporary and compelling without being trite. After a cursory Google, it seems that The Drunken Ones may not have yet been translated into English, so I encourage any intrepid Russophiles out there to make the effort; it would be well worth it.