Tairov’s Theater, Evreinov’s Monodramatic Moment, and the Lessons of «Eugene Onegin», a Drama in Verse

Caryl Emerson

 

Learning literature through theater is a bottomless source of excitement—and one reason, surely, is the sense of urgency imposed by performance. With novels, art exhibits, architectural monuments, even movies, the reader or spectator is boss. The story (as well as interesting theories that might explain the story) can be “paused,” bookmarked, contemplated, revisited at will. But live music and live theater depend for their communication on the uninterrupted forward thrust of a concept. Polemical or ideologically-driven theater, so familiar to twentieth-century Eastern Europe, can begin with an idea or desired effect and then strap both set and cast to it. But a pragmatic approach to stage work is more often the rule. The concept works itself out intuitively during rehearsals, as a creation-in-process by those skilled practitioners in the temporal arts we call actors, musicians, dancers, projectionists, all the while being nourished here and there by a directorial hint or hunch. The ensemble succeeds (more or less well) on opening night, is tuned up throughout the run, and often it is only after the show is struck that principles emerge with the contours of a formal theory. Such was my experience co-managing, with Simon Morrison, Princeton University’s production of a dramatic adaptation of Eugene Onegin in February 2012.

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Eugene Onegin: A Scenic Projection

Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky (1936)

Translated by James E. Falen with the cooperation of Caryl Emerson

 

Preface

Caryl Emerson

This translation of Krzhizhanovsky’s Eugene Onegin, which appears here courtesy of James E. Falen, has an instructive and at times excruciating prehistory.

The Russian archival typescript had been known to theater directors since the 1990s, but its circulation was limited. Krzhizhanovsky’s work for the stage survived in roughly a dozen items. The editor of his collected works (2002–11), Vadim Perel´muter, included in volume 5 (on theater) only two original plays and one pantomime: there was no room for adapta­tions. So the play appeared first in English, as part of a Prokofiev volume published in 2008 (Simon Morrison, ed., Sergey Prokofiev and His World), in my “free verse” version with the composer’s markings. It was a good-faith attempt to communicate the play to an American ear and to accom­modate—or so I thought at the time—the comfort zone of American actors.

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