Sunday, 16 October 2016

Woe from Wit (written in 1823) written by Alexander Sergeyevich Griboyedov and directed by Vsevolod Meyerhold in 1928

A scene from Woe from Wit (written in 1823) written by the Russian playwright Alexander Sergeyevich Griboyedov (1795-1829) and directed by Vsevolod Meyerhold in 1928

 


"Following the success of his modern adaptation of Nikolai Gogol’s The In­spector General (1925), Vsevolod Meyerhold turned his attention to Alex­ander Griboedov’s play in verse, Woe from Wit (Gore ot uma; 1823). Like The Inspector General, Griboedov’s play satirized the vain and materi­alistic culture of the early nineteenth-century Russian aristocracy. Woe from Wit tells the story of Chatsky, a young man who, after spending three years wandering throughout Western Europe, returns home to Mos­cow with the intention of proposing marriage to his childhood love, Sofya. Chatsky’s newly acquired liberal, Western views, however, make him the object of ridicule in Muscovite high society, which in turn threatens to ruin his chances of winning back Sofya. For his adaptation of the famous Griboedov play, Meyerhold took a number of liberties with the original script. Almost half of the scenes in Woe to Wit (Gore umu) are entirely new additions penned by Meyerhold. On his decision to largely rewrite the original script, Meyerhold insisted that a “play is simply the excuse for the revelation of its theme on the level at which that revelation may appear vital today.” In that vein, he recast the story in a contemporary setting, replacing Griboedov’s nineteenth-century aristocracy with “NEP-men,” the new Soviet aristocracy. The biggest change, however, is Meyerhold’s re­configuration of the “obscene” sexual mores of Muscovite society.
The original Woe from Wit is itself highly sexual. The opening scene is of Liza, Sofya’s maid, guarding her mistress’s bedroom door while she and her suitor, Molchalin, are alone together inside (supposedly playing music, although it is hinted at later in the play that they have been intimate with one another). Meyerhold’s adaptation is no less risqué. In his version, the characters casually carry around lubricant, there is an extremely homo­erotic billiards game between a father and his future son-in-law, and Sofya, the ultra-feminine heroine of Griboedov’s play, dresses in men’s clothing and enjoys the company of female burlesque dancers. What these last two examples point to, however, is the difference in Meyerhold’s sex­ual “types.” In Meyerhold’s version of the play, Chatsky returns to find a Moscow where gender norms have been destabilized and the people regularly engage in non-normative sexual behaviors. To better understand why and how Meyerhold recalibrated the presentation of sexual norms in Woe to Wit, it is important to note that Woe from Wit was not Meyerhold’s first choice for the 1927–28 theatrical season."

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