National Theater, Olivier
A beautiful ensemble performance of an almost savage anatomization by Gorky of purposeless middle-class sojourners in the Russian countryside. A play contemporary with Chekhov’s masterpieces but not performed by the Moscow Art Theater because of Danchenko’s determined opposition: he thought the characters were will-less and devoid of interest. Will-lessness was, of course, Gorky’s point, and it turns out he made a wonderfully funny but ultimately sad, even disgusting spectacle of this group of people who have lost any sense of purpose and so have descended into drunken, aggressive behavior, name-calling, fighting, and other diversions that ultimately destroy what little sense of community is left at the beginning of the play. A huge, deep stage, with lots of birch trees (obligatory, it seems, for a Russian country setting; the first thing I noticed back in 1987 when my plane was landing at Moscow airport was birch trees at the edge of the runway). Fine ensemble playing here, as in Merchant and, at the RSC Barbican, in Seagull.