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.

The Onegin project was the second of our all-campus “creative restorations” of a Pushkin Centennial project that fell casualty to the Stalinist cultural anti-revolution. Both paired a famous Moscow theater with a score by Sergei Prokofiev, who in 1936 had been lured back to Moscow partly by commissions to compose incidental music for stagings of the poet’s greatest works. Our first restoration was Boris Godunov, musicalized but de-operatized, which had been scheduled to open in 1937 in Vsevolod Meyerhold’s newly-constructed GosTiM theater off Gorky Street. But the production, the theater, and the director were all dead by 1940. The resurrected premiere of this Boris Godunov, undertaken at Princeton in 2007 in the spirit of Meyerhold’s rehearsal notes but with a twenty-first-century set, was written up as a forum for Pushkin Review/ Пушкинский вестник, volume 10 (2007): 1–46. The focus of that issue was the view from “inside the show”: testimonials from the director and student cast, our worst and best moments up to opening night, how the Boris Tale shifted morally and historically when illustrated as tragedy or as comedy. This present Pushkin Review forum is devoted to our revival of the second commission from 1936: a dramatic adaptation, also with Prokofiev’s music, of Evgenii Onegin, by Alexander Tairov’s Moscow Chamber Theater (the Kamerny). The tasks here were less tragic but more delicate.

Tairov’s Theater Takes on Pushkin’s Greatest Book

Onegin the Play contained none of the potentially troubling political subtexts of tyranny, treason, Catholic Poland, or pretendership that the historical drama Boris had in such abundance. It is a love story. But the project was abandoned by its theater even earlier than Boris was by Meyerhold, in December 1936, after the orchestral parts had been prepared but before director, composer, or actors had sat down to serious table work, much less gotten up on a stage. Thus no memoirs were written, no “rehearsal diaries” by Tairov of the sort that Meyerhold was keeping so splendidly for Boris Godunov. The directorial record for Boris is so moving and dramatic in its own right that in June 2013, Vladimir Jurowski could stage Prokofiev’s incidental music in Moscow’s Tchaikovsky Hall as a dialogue between Meyerhold and Prokofiev, each speaking his own recorded words, with Tsar, Ksenia, and Holy Fool largely as backdrop.[1] Onegin at the Chamber Theater never generated that sort of theater history. In 2011, we inherited from various archives a fabulous musical score, a few scribbled-on typescripts of the play, and a dozen costume sketches—but no stage set and no transcripts of conversations that might have led to a “concept.” The drama carved out of Pushkin’s novel-in-verse (by the modernist prose-writer and theater pedagogue Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky) never passed the censors of Glavrepertkom or the purists on the Pushkin Jubilee commission. The Russian original of this play text has not been published.[2] The archival typescript is reproduced for the first time in this issue, courtesy of RGALI (Russian State Archive for Literature and Art), in the copy that Prokofiev saw in the spring of 1936, together with a verse translation by James E. Falen (2011) that became our working script. The Stalin-era back-story of this aborted Chamber Theater Onegin has been told in detail.[3] The present essay will not repeat that history, but speculates more broadly on a bit of theater theory that came together in my head only after the show.

What were the major challenges facing Eugene Onegin, a drama-in-verse? The first was formal: extracting a playable, speakable dramatic core from the novel. By the mid-1930s Krzhizhanovsky had been working for over a decade as part-time lecturer at the Experimental Studio of the Kamerny. One of the earliest decisions he made together with Tairov on Onegin was to produce a “real play”—that is, to eliminate Pushkin’s Narrator, except for the flickering trace of an itinerant Poet at the very end—while retaining the potent contour and rhythm of the Onegin stanza, carrier of the Narrator’s viewpoint and voice. Both men believed, together with Prokofiev and most of the Russian-speaking world, that outside the oneginskaia strofa, Pushkin’s story (and even the consciousnesses of its characters) could not exist. But how are living, three-dimensional bodies to be pried out of that pervasive authorial texture? Other theaters in the 1930s would experiment with staging strong narrators out of nineteenth-century literary classics, including the Moscow Art Theater, which very successfully adapted Tolstoy’s late novel Resurrection.[4] The famed Vasily Kachalov was cast as an acting personage, “Ot avtora” (From the Author), who strolled across the stage commenting on the moral crises and critical decisions of the characters. Such a solution was not acceptable to the Chamber Theater. The problem here was not only that Tolstoy’s voice is far less gentle than the urbane, self-effacing Romantic-era Poet who so effortlessly relates Pushkin’s novel. The Kamerny resisted in principle any authorial interference that reduced acting characters to puppets, to narrated things, and their personal creativity to mere illustration. From its inception the theater had prided itself on enabling not authors or playwrights, not capricious directors or avant-garde set designers, but the sovereign, highly trained acting person on stage, its most privileged deistvuiushchee litso, the sverkh-akter or “master actor.”

Tairov argues this case passionately in his 1922 memoir Zapiski rezhissera (Notes of a Director), a polemical summary of his theater’s first eight years and its role in the professionalization of Moscow’s performing arts.[5] The first ally of the acting person is an extensive, arduous period of schooling in body movement and vocal declamation. (In his chapter on the actor’s external technique, Tairov laments the current fascination with “everyday diction” in theater, as if mumbling words in the “horrifying, vulgar, expressionless and timbreless” voice of the man in the street were a sign of simplicity and good taste [Zapiski 131/86]). The second ally of the actor is music, which of all the arts is the most emotionally precise and disciplined. Tairov always rehearsed to some musical score, “tuning up” his company to music the way a classical dance-master does a corps de ballet. He employed a full-time in-house composer, Henri Forterre, for precisely this purpose; and in his Notes, Tairov speaks longingly of a “corps de drame” (kordedrama) on analogy with ballet (Zapiski 114/71). The Kamerny was known for its meticulous ensemble work. In his chapter on “stage atmosphere” (stsenicheskaia atmosfera), Tairov remarks that the tyranny of modernist set design was reducing everything to two-dimensional flatness, whereas the proper scene should imitate the starting-point of all stage art, the actor’s body—which is inescapably a volume. (An actor’s costume could be stylized to resemble a Cubist painting or a Constructivist prop, but always with the awareness of human muscles moving underneath.) Breaking up the flatness of the stage floor was a high priority for Tairov. One trademark of the Kamernybecame the bold tiers, risers, ramps, and staircases that facilitated the flow of formally blocked units and sustained, heightened visual tableaus (Zapiski 159–62/108–12). Little wonder that Tairov decried both the “naturalistic stage” (Stanislavsky), which imitated the boxy rooms, boring vistas, clutter and formlessness of life, and the mechanistic “theater of style” (Meyerhold), which was willing to “represent” feelings but not (in Tairov’s view) to experience them fully. Both extremes ignored the fundamental material out of which theater is made: the live actor as a craftsman and master of “emotionally saturated forms.”[6]

The two chapters in Notes of a Director devoted to an actor’s internal and external technique are prefaced by an impatient discursus on “dilettantism versus mastery” (Zapiski 109–15/66–72). Here Tairov lays out the appalling difficulty of the actor’s art. In what other realm is the creative personality inseparably fused with its material as well as with its instrument? Actors have no “external artistic product,” the artwork cannot be laid aside while the artist upgrades a skill or stands back to get a good look. Actors must summon up their art whole, on call, and continue it without interruption, for any length of time; what is more, the collective nature of the task severely limits the individual actor-artist’s freedom. Control and responsivity in all areas must be perfect. But, Tairov complains, the most casual attitudes prevail on Moscow’s stages. Directors erroneously seek the truths of art among the truths of everyday life. No serious choreographer would call someone in from the street to dance in a ballet ensemble; drama theaters, however, routinely hire “walk-through extras” to fill up a crowd.

Equally unsettling to Tairov was the fact that sophisticated poets and drama theorists like Vyacheslav Ivanov were turning the spontaneous intervention of an innocent, untrained audience in a performance into an ideal for the “new theater.” In the final chapter of his Notes, titled “The Spectator” (Zritel´), Tairov anxiously asks whether Ivanov’s praise of sobornost´ (communal principle or spirit), the mythopoetic concept he attributes to pre-professional Greek tragedy, is in fact a desirable way to revive contemporary theater (Zapiski 181–87/132–39). Even Meyerhold, a consummate professional, had earnestly recommended that the spectator be drawn into active on-stage participation, revealing in him too a nostalgic “yearning toward the communal” (toska po sobornosti) (183/134). Tairov was profoundly suspicious of all this. With its choral imperative, Dionysian aims, tolerance of chance, and indiscriminate invitation to all to participate, the communal impulse was properly a component of religious ritual, politics, folk art, carnival, the brave new project of socialism in Russia. But such a quest could not be part of mature theater as such, because theater, Tairov insists, is a “self-contained fine art” (samodovleiushchee prekrasnoe iskusstvo). To dissolve its boundaries or leap over its footlights only misleads all parties about the art of the actor—and the result is at times violence, at times muddled chaos, but not community.[7]

It is on such dilettantism that Tairov blames the “crisis of the theaters.” Either the director, daunted by the difficult mission of the actor, gives up on the human body altogether and replaces it with marionettes, or the myth takes hold that the sincere re-experiencing of a feeling (perezhivanie) is sufficient to produce mastery in acting. But authentic feeling is no guarantee of accurately formed stage action. Acting, Tairov felt, must not be ashamed to be stage craft. The gestures and intonations of the master actor are by nature sculpted, self-confident, pleasurably aware of their harmony and grace, designed as exaggerated formal moments. At times in his Notes of a Director, Tairov sounds like a cornered poet in the age of paraphrase—like Pushkin, perhaps, making the case for a taut disciplined meter (the Onegin stanza) against the easy, lazy inroads of free verse or the simple chatter of prose.

One challenge of adapting Eugene Onegin to the stage, then, was to communicate the unmediated reality of each character without losing the tension or spin of the stanza, container for the Poet’s unified perspective. Another was the fragile human material in Pushkin’s novel, so precariously yet unpretentiously balanced inside the form.Touch it, supply a body for it, and its contours are already distorted. Much in this text played to the strengths of the Moscow Chamber Theater’s superbly trained company. Its leading lady, Tairov’s wife Alisa Koonen (1889–1974), was a skilled tragedienne, at her best with Wilde’s Salomé (1917) and Racine’s Phèdre (1922). Over her distinguished career she had expertly performed roles at the Kamerny not wholly to her talents or liking. These included the rustic doll and then overstuffed bourgeois matron in the premiere of Claude Debussy’s La Boîte à joujoux (The Toybox; 1917); the title role in Bernard Shaw’s Saint Joan (1924); even the martyred Bolshevik Commissar in Vsevolod Vishnevsky’s civil war play, An Optimistic Tragedy (1933), a fantastically successful piece of agitprop that ran at the Kamerny for 800 performances and served to re-certify this cosmopolitan theater as a patriotic institution during the first Stalinist decade.[8] But the role of Tatyana Larina was not just another commission. Koonen was desperately eager to play Russia’s most beloved heroine. From a dry comment made by Krzhizhanovsky in a letter to his wife Anna Bovshek in July 1938, we know that two years after the Onegin project was canceled, with the Terror against Russian culture at its peak and the participants in the 1936 theater debacle watching their every step, Koonen was still hoping that the production could be revived.[9]

In 1936 Koonen was forty-seven years old. Judging by recordings of her voice and by archival video footage of other Kamerny productions from the 1930s, her interpretation of the role would have been majestic, melodramatic, and rhythmically accentuated.[10] It would have been a tribute to the triumphal cadence of Pushkin’s verse, not to the shy, whispered stubbornness of a first love. In 2012, we counted among the excellences of our Princeton Onegin revival the fact that the major players, all handsome and experienced actors, were barely out of their teens: the preferred age of the world in Pushkin’s novel. They moved quickly, spoke rapidly, and could dress up as anything—a mummer, a monster, a dandy, a bear, an infatuated girl, a doddering old gentleman in a Petersburg salon—without undue gravitas. The buoyancy and youthful beauty of Pushkin’s novel we had in abundance. We also hoped to imitate some of Pushkin’s sly, wry, understated humor at the merciless way life treats our deepest appetites and needs. The non-embrace of Onegin and Tatyana at the end, for example, was sensed by us as a suspension of life’s energies, perhaps even as their heightening and realignment, but not (as Koonen would have played it) a tragedy. Without a doubt the advantages of flexibility and youth were more to our taste than to Tairov’s. The Chamber Theater put no great store by life’s markers on the far side of footlights. What its actors would have warmed to, however, was the impulsive lyrical expressiveness of Tatyana, the melodramatic effusions of Lensky, the narcissistic, dandified gestures of Onegin—all realities of Romantic-era behavior that Pushkin had “caught” in his stanzas and that begged to be acted out. If Yuri Lotman is correct that in the early Russian nineteenth century “the theater invaded life and actively reshaped people’s everyday behavior,” then Eugene Onegin, that celebrated encyclopedia of everyday life, is also a gift to the stage.[11]

Another challenge haunts this adaptation, apart from the intricacies of the stanza and the incongruity of a tragic style applied to this weightlessly wise love story. It is familiar to anyone who saw Martha Fiennes’s opulent, visually stunning 1999 film Onegin and winced through its heroine’s banal, makeshift dialogue. Pushkin’s Tatyana almost never speaks. The Narrator does her speaking, thinking, letter-writing and dreaming for her—lovingly, of course, but with a certain patronizing voyeurism, and addressed (as lyrics usually are) direct from poet to reader, not exchanged between acting personages inside their own story space. Opera has the genre of the aria for these private, time-stopping communications that soar outward from one individual heart to the private recesses of each auditor in the hall. But conventional spoken drama is all in “recitative” time and space. People hear one another’s words and react to them. For portions of the Onegin plot, this is no problem. Pushkin provides clever rhythmic repartee for Lensky, Onegin, Olga, Mme. Larina; those dialogues are ready-made. But in terms of lines, they are a fraction of the whole. To further thicken the interactive soundscape, Krzhizhanovsky allowed whole characters—the drunken Buyanov, dueling impresario Zaretsky, loyal friend Vyazemsky—to escape the Narrator’s garrulous digressions and morph into first-person lines and actors with lives of their own. They speak bits of Pushkin from throughout the corpus, and the better one knows the poet, the funnier these characters become. But providing the shy, reclusive Tatyana with plausible utterances and an on-stage addressee was a huge, delicate task in the play.

One of Krzhizhanovsky’s first moves was to expand the role of the Nurse, Tatyana’s single unthreatening interlocutor. He gave the kindly old woman lines and motifs from Pushkin’s skazka on the “Snow White” theme (1833), “The Tale of the Dead Tsarevna and of the Seven Knights”—another story of fidelity, winter, and patient waiting. It is to her Nurse that Tatyana eventually recounts her terrifying, gratifying dream, which becomes the play’s pivotal event. This is a potent departure from Tchaikovsky, who omitted Tatyana’s Dream altogether from his 1869 opera; its unmediated eroticism was beyond the permissible bounds of the sentimental. Dance has done better with it. In John Cranko’s 1967 ballet Eugene Onegin, the Dream is combined with the Letter scene and both are linked with Tatyana’s fortune-telling rituals (to her fateful confusion, Onegin literally emerges out of the mirror). In Boris Eifman’s 2009 ballet Onegin, the monsters’ designs on the desiring girl are the centerpiece of the production. The “corps-de-drame” of Tairov’s theater, had it been allowed on-stage time with dance-master and composer, would doubtless have anticipated Cranko and Eifman with a startlingly modern, stylized Dream. From the playscript alone it is clear that the role of dreaming in this play ties together all its central components: Prokofiev’s music, Krzhizhanovsky’s philosophy of theater, and the “monodrama” of Tatyana’s life. It also suggests a way to experience the heroine without violating her privacy—which is, for this story, a paramount virtue.

Prokofiev, Krzhizhanovsky, and Protecting the Lyrical Subject

Pushkin’s Tatyana is an ideal, a Muse. She does not make eye contact. Since her attempts to reach out to others almost never receive prompt or satisfying response, her basic mode is deep, respectful waiting. Her dialogues with the outside world are staggered, asynchronic, for she is the pressure and fantasy of desire without its banal, corporeal playing-out. While loving intensely, her character is alien to grabbing at a person or a thing (this is why the end of Tchaikovsky’s opera, which makes a physical embrace almost impossible to avoid, feels so un-Pushkinian); yet on stage, Tatyana must still turn outward and tell her story to someone. Her socially awkward, largely silent and invisible person was a source of fascination to Prokofiev, whose music for the production ingeniously supplies her infrastructure. As Simon Morrison has explained, Prokofiev’s enthusiasm for this project rested on two aspects of Tchaikovsky’s opera score that were not, and could not be, true to Pushkin and thus justified a re-musicalization.[12]

First was the “rustic” quality of any ball in a provincial backwater (Tchaikovsky had supplied elegant urban-style dances for both country and city; in Prokofiev, a tinny “tryam-blyam polka” plunked through on out-of-tune harpsichords accompanies the Nameday). Second was the pervasive, congenital shyness of Tatyana. A recluse from childhood who remains passionlessly “correct” and comme il faut even as a Princess running an elegant salon, Tatyana is the opposite of a prima donna who might lose herself (or find herself) in song. She flees audience. And however we honor the conventions of the operatic aria, Pushkin’s Tatyana could never be “virtuosic,” that is, could never show herself off pleasurably to a public. Her dominant mode is not display, but embarrassment. She might, however, murmur her words to music inside her head—which is what “mood music” does for film, a genre in which Prokofiev’s genius shone without peer. “The isolated mysteries of Tatyana’s personality are captured in a cluster of interrelated themes,” Morrison writes (126); they communicate with one another as well as with the audience and on-stage interlocutors. But these themes are not, strictly speaking, spoken. They are more felt than heard, which is precisely the effect of good cinema music: an arc of emotion, arising from somewhere unknown, suffusing the scene and subliminally absorbed by all within reach. Tatyana is everywhere present in the play, even without (or especially without) words.

Prokofiev’s musical score does enormous work in the play. Consider only Tatyana’s Dream. It is program music with two simultaneous programs. In a breathless first-person voice-over, the heroine relates, to her Nurse and to us, the horror and thrill of getting access to the forbidden beloved. She watches herself with the wisdom of already having woken up from it. At the same time, she is allowed to re-live that trial of access, willfully acting it out in the body, acting into it. No Onegin stanza on the page can do this; only musicalized theater can do it. In the full score of the Dream, the orchestration is dramatic. The tuba creates a heavy bear lumbering off-balance through the snowdrifts, while Tatyana rushes ahead, in syncopated leaps at the fourth and fifth, a descending oboe line marking her stumbles into a frozen bank. Always at the center of her quest is Onegin. Those persistent horns and woodwinds are shot through with lyrical longing, as bits of Tatyana’s theme resound in swelling lines of flute and strings. “Tatyana’s music does not describe or narrate events,” Morrison writes, “but denotes a subjective interior where recollections and impressions coalesce” (126). Remember this truth in connection with the pivotal Dream: it will be our portal to that variant on lyrical monodrama that Krzhizhanovsky envisioned for Pushkin’s love story on stage.

Once across the threshold of the hut, Tatyana recognizes the folklore monsters around the table as the very creatures who had surrounded and fêted her the day before in mummers’ costumes. The effect of this dream monologue on stage is thus akin to a flashback in film, complete with the “cinematic swipe” of a mournful solo woodwind line. Here and elsewhere, Krzhizhanovsky resolved adaptation problems by recourse to film devices, where diegetic and non-diegetic options for voice and music not only vastly enrich the expressive repertory of silent characters, but also encourage flash-forwards and back, close-ups, lingering shots and dissolves. In places, the Onegin script resembles a film scenario—an art form that deeply interested Krzhizhanovsky, whose work in this medium bridged two eras, silent film and talkies.[13] Video projection was used heavily in our 2012 production. The young peasant children who crowd around Tatyana as she approaches Onegin’s abandoned estate were filmed and then projected on the wall, creeping up and scurrying away. (We later understood that these young boys, “projected” in the Library scene, not only realized Pushkin’s detail about the “Rebiat dvorovaia sem´ia” [house-serf children] who drove off the dogs and went to fetch Anisya [Evgenii Onegin 7: xvi–xvii], but also served as a poignant reminder of Tatyana’s dreams of love and family, a literally projected future where, again, she was outsider, spectator, on the inner side of the window, not a participant.) A brief span of moving images—water over stones, forests of drifted snow, fields or flowers in bloom—marked many of our scene breaks in a darkened hall. The audience was separated from the “stage” by no more than a few inches of fake snow. Over half the scenes could have taken place inside Tatyana’s head.

The very idea of a “moving video-projection,” barely possible technically on the 1930s Russian stage, lends itself to such dynamic fantasy between waking and dream. Spectators in the hall could see what the heroine projects, or even what she, in her fear or bliss, “sees” (on analogy with the ghost of Hamlet’s father). The flow of events in our production was determined by Tatyana’s inner emotional realities, which were always immediate; inevitably they differed from Pushkin’s novel, which was governed by the Narrator’s literary priorities—stylized, retrospective, nostalgic. We felt licensed in our interpretation by several bold moves that Krzhizhanovsky had made in his adaptation, adjustments of Pushkin that surely raised the hackles of his Stalin-era censors. To facilitate the flow of inner events and focus it around the heroine, he switched the order and location of several canonized Pushkinian episodes.

In its final form, the play script distributed Pushkin’s eight chapters in fourteen soft-edged “fragments.” Krzhizhanovsky eliminated the Sermon at the Bench, preferring to have Onegin pursue a mortified Tatyana around the noisy Nameday dance floor, trying (in mounting irritation) to explain himself. And Krzhizhanovsky moved the Nameday itself, so full of humiliation for the heroine, before her Dream. The dream is then allowed to organize in one unbroken psychological sequence all the vital, violent events at the novel’s core—and (in an exciting, unsettling way) even provide the devastated heroine with a second chance. First a chorus of masked Yuletide mummers closes the Tatyana Day festivities, prancing in a khorovod and singing in Tatyana’s honor a lewd wedding song so graphic that she faints away. Waking up on the far side of that Nameday nightmare, Tatyana relates to her Nurse what we realize is in part a wish-fulfillment dream. She has fantasized her way out of her public and private shame into Onegin’s embrace, freed at last from her sister’s triumphant flirtations. But that consummation too is cut short. The knife-play at the end of the Dream segues without interruption into the lethal Duel, where Lensky and Onegin confront each other over a barrier in a blizzard. By the time of that Duel (only its final moments are acted out), we have again returned to the woken-up stage. What happens here cannot be undone or replayed. But what is dream-life, what is real?

Making a dream the axis of the drama, and allowing this dream to slide into reality when the lyrical subject requires it, was of absolute value to Krzhizhanovsky as playwright. Dreamscapes also organize the logic of his best prose works. Key for him is where in the plot a dream occurs, to whom, and how its borders are marked. In his 1936 notes on the Pushkin adaptation, guidelines first published in 2006 under the title “Stanza by Stanza through Onegin,” Krzhizhanovsky compares line-by-line Tatyana’s Dream with Ruslan’s Dream from Ruslan and Lyudmila (that horrifying sequence of nested disasters that precedes the hero’s murder by Farlaf), uncovering surprising emotional and structural parallels between the two.[14] To his Onegin story he adds a third hallucinatory dimension: having fused the violent denouement of the fictive stage Dream with the lethally stage-real Duel, he then inflects both with the awful overtones of the 1837 duel commemorated by the Centenary Jubilee: the death of Pushkin. It stands in for the fate of all poets. Death (albeit in softened, elegaic tones) is present from the beginning. The play omits Pushkin’s chapter 1, opening already in the countryside, with Lensky composing an elegy at the tomb of Dmitri Larin. But to preface this scene, rather in the style of a Shakespearean chronicle play or late romance to temper the audience, Krzhizhanovsky provides a Prologue built off Pushkin’s 1825 verse dialogue “Conversation between a Bookseller and a Poet” (Russians would recall that Pushkin published the first chapter of Onegin prefaced by this dialogue). For us, the bit of bargaining that opens the play was a hinge with which to join two eras, the 1820s and the 1930s: Pushkin’s anxiety on the brink of the commercial market, and the Soviet writer’s helplessness before Party and censor. It was the sole (but we felt, the single indispensable) moment of politics in the play.

Before the house lights dimmed and while the hall was still filling up, the Poet is already in place at stage’s edge, bending over a manual typewriter. He was costumed to resemble Krzhizhanovsky circa 1936, at a shabby unheated desk, hungry, haggard, cold, whacking out his play. Snow is falling over everything. He’ll do anything to sell this piece. Later this unemployed poet moves to the margins of the stage, reading out loud the occasional stage direction, like a stage manager. Or perhaps he only dreams that his play has gone into rehearsal? Our tiny, relatively empty performance space had many corners, and each might have contained a private world. By keeping the Poet in the wings, of course, we did restore something of Pushkin’s Narrator, which Krzhizhanovsky was determined to do without. (Tairov, fearing the wrath of the orthodox Pushkinists, had always been more flexible on this point.) In our production, however, this panoptic directorial presence was more a manager of spaces, images, and movements than he was of words. He was a theatrical equivalent of the lyric poet who had created the novel-in-verse. The acting characters spoke with one another in the cadences of the stanza, because only poetry gives birth to three-dimensional life. The stage directions, saturated with the more inert physical details (“props”) from Pushkin’s novel, were read out in prose.

Our Poet, Matthew Spellberg, the sole graduate student in an otherwise undergraduate cast, had long studied the working of dreams in Pushkin, Shakespeare, and as transcribed on the ground by real-life informants in isolated locales (glaciers, the Yukon). In his retrospective testimonial, he had this to say about his hovering presence in this cold-and-hot play:

I played the Poet, the one character who serves as a signpost for the continued existence of a world beyond the fabulous dream of Tatyana and Onegin. It is an odd position for the artist-figure; the romantic poet is, so the story usually goes, buried alive in his dreams. But this poet is the dream’s custodian, concerned about how to preserve it in the world (sometimes with cash), and, in the final lines, how to kill it once its uses have been exhausted. Every time it is said, the word dream threatens to turn into metaphor, meaning beauty, longing, an ideal, an (often cheap) hope. The poet’s real duty, in this play at least, is to make sure that a dream remains a dream, that its sharpness is not dulled by rusting language, that it is not bought by the worn and inflated coin of cliché.

In Tim Vasen’s staging, the poet is a haggard emissary from the 1930s wandering the margins of the early nineteenth century, spying, describing out-loud the goings-on, but never in control. There is no sense of historical causality, just a sense of historical juxtaposition. And this distinction seems to me extremely important for all of the artistic visions involved: this was not meant to be a work of meta-theater, with an author-figure directing his characters. It was intended, rather, as a work that pushes to its limits the temporal flexibility of theater (especially the theater of Shakespeare, which Krzhizhanovsky adored), in which hours or days or years can pass between scenes, and in which the anxieties and beliefs of the author’s era can find themselves costumed in the mores of another. There is no sense of time as a continuous, sweeping force in Krzhizhanovsky’s Onegin. There are only “fragments,” not acts or scenes. The play is a temporal mix of bits and pieces, of strands of gossip, of innuendo and analogy. The poet and creature, when they meet, announce a certain model for history, which is not the customary linear thread, or the lavish tapestry, or the pages of a turning book. It is a disordered, sometimes glittering, collage.

To this glittering end, Cindy Thom, costume designer, and Anya Klepikov, scene designer, configured the acting space into three zones. The studio is a tiny black box rimmed round with a high catwalk. One of the cast’s first tasks was to paint it light sky-blue. The Dream was narrated above to the Nurse while being played out below. Tatyana wrote her letter above and then dropped it over the balcony, to be retrieved by Onegin’s servant. The Moscow scene (where Tatyana is unwrapped from the cold and first attracts the gaze of her Fat General) took place entirely on the balcony. The “creators” (as opposed to the players) of the production—the Poet-Playwright and the Musician—were distributed to the periphery. No orchestra would have fit into so modest a studio theater with its bleachers hugging the stage; what is more, the incidental music, fully scored, would have drowned out Pushkin’s words to any audience that did not already know them by heart.[15] Most of the music, therefore, was performed live in Prokofiev’s original piano score, by an accomplished undergraduate pianist, at the upper level, with the occasional orchestrated or choral segment piped in. The most astute review we received of the production, by Vera Zubareva, made much of this architectural logic.[16] She notes that Onegin’s space is overall horizontal and ground-level, whereas Tatyana’s is vertical and up high; “all her dreams and thoughts occur above the earthly fuss. When she comes down, she carries them with her as one carries one’s dream to realize it in material space.” At the end of the story, after Tatyana has departed and Onegin is bereft, this Poet—a fusion of Pushkin and his stage adaptor—rises from his seat and moves in on his creature. “They stare at each other for some time as if trying to figure out who is a victim and who is a victor in that fused ‘author-character’ relationship,” Zubareva comments. “The performance is over. You leave the theater. The snow begins. Is it falling from the sky or is it coming from the play?

Precisely this uncertainty about where in Reality we are, how much of our life is irreversible and how much is ours to manipulate creatively, is essential to dreaming. It also fuels the most exciting sorts of theater, in Krzhizhanovsky’s view. In 1923, he composed his longest theoretical piece on the performing arts, assembled out of his lectures for actors at the Kamerny, “A Philosopheme about the Theater.”[17] In it he praises the performer’s skill at changing “I’s” before the eyes of a public, possible only because trained actors contain within themselves “all the varied and various aspects of a human being” (the title of one of his lectures: “Akter kak raznovidnost´ cheloveka”) (64). The natural ambition of the actor is always to “be more of a world, or a bigger world, than the world itself” (67), and in practice this means to exploit the convention of footlights to emphasize the authority of the Role. To create a dramatic role requires a maximal degree of belief in the animating powers of art. All great philosophers, from Copernicus through Kant, Darwin and Bergson, are preoccupied with instances of change and fluctuation, Krzhizhanovsky writes; but “for science and religion it is important what changes; for theater it is important only that something change, because what matters is the process of changeability itself” (69). This change need not wait on nature; it can be creatively willed. The very exercise of this will enables all participants in the theatrical contract, spectators and actors alike, to resist spiritual inertia and decay. Such is the economy of disciplined live performance. The huge eyelid of the curtain rises, the audience is obliged to confront (to see), the actor (by being watched) is authenticated in the role, and a parallel life begins to take root. If epic is a genre of the past in the tight grip of fate, and lyric a genre of the transitorily present, then theater—for all its apparent present-tenseness—permits us to experiment with tomorrow (80–82).

Early in the second chapter of his “Philosopheme” essay Krzhizhanovsky, with his trademark verbal wit, defines three types of theater: that of bytie [Being], of byt [everyday life], and of by (or kak by, “as-if”) (52–55). The first is the mystery play, too unified, paradigmatic, and static for effective theater. The second is drama, overall a comfortable mode that satisfies our fetish for touching and seeing; wedded to the interaction of artifacts and real-life people, it jealously hugs the flat stage floor. Only the third type of theater, at which the Kamerny excelled, encourages potentials to be realized in human consciousness that can strengthen and educate us actively. By definition, actors are “sushchestva iz by” (creatures from “as-if”) (55). But to project these potentials they need a secure home, separated from the audience by a firm row of footlights. The current fad for removing, breaching, or “curving the footlights upward” is a mistake, Krzhizhanovsky insists, “more dangerous to the organism of the theater than curving the backbone is to the organism of a human being” (55). Here as almost everywhere, he echoes Tairov—or Tairov him: the two appear to have collaborated on their theater aesthetic. “Long live the footlights!” Tairov exclaims at the end of his Notes. “The stage is a complex and difficult keyboard which only a master-actor can command.” No layperson should run up on it and no actor should surreptitiously penetrate the hall. But the “fine art of the actor” makes it possible for spectators to participate in the proper way, creatively, their perception awakened by “the wings of fantasy” (Zapiski 190–91/143).

It is important not to confuse this fantasy, this “as-if” creativity, with denial or escape. Its events might not have happened, or not happened yet, or happen on a plane inaccessible to us, but “as-if” is rooted in the real and engages responsibly with the real. What is more, “as-if” need not mean getting what we want, that is, blissful fantasy-come-true in the sense of wish fulfillment. What we get in this realm is more likely to be what we must learn to work with. In her discussion of these categories in Krzhizhanovsky’s aesthetics, Alisa Ballard suggests that for this thinker, it was the theater of bytie and byt that were the cowardly, escapist ones: the former is too abstract and passive, the latter is too philistine.[18] The truest theater, at the level of by, “is built on multiplicity, dialogue, and conflict” (559). It forces us to try out a variety of self-other relations, both with a collective and with our own individual selves. As “the space of pure creativity and potentiality” (561), it knows contemplation and projection—and in that sense, the “as if” mode is indeed perceived by us as a fantasy. But it is a fantasy that we are not free to ignore (again like the ghost of Hamlet’s father, selectively visible on stage to those who must react to it, for whom it is more real than the real of society’s consensus). Ballard’s analogy is “the dream within the dream” (561).

Tairov’s Kamerny was splendidly qualified to portray dreams of a certain sort—or so Krzhizhanovsky believed. In an anniversary essay on “M.K.T. and its theme,” published in the theater’s in-house journal in 1924, he praised the fact that the Kamerny “almost always did plays about plays, thus becoming a theater of the highest theatricality, more precisely, a theater raised to the Theater power (TT).”[19] He notes with approval its production of Calderón’s La Vida es sueño (Life Is a Dream) in 1915, which divided Being between Waking and Dreaming (iav´ i son) merely by an exchange of masks (645). But other aspects of this dramatic Onegin might not have fared so well in the Kamerny. The fact that Tairov pleaded unsuccessfully with Krzhizhanovsky, throughout the summer of 1936, to adjust his text can only suggest that director and adaptor did not always see eye to eye. Tairov’s closely controlled corps-de-drame, Koonen’s gift for tragedy, even the philosophical potentials of the dream, might have obscured one vital aspect of this Onegin that we tried mightily to bring forward: its high wit and humor. In addition to lyrical and folklore inserts, the playscript contains chastushki and a juvenile drinking song (both by Pushkin), the latter delivered by a wobbly crew of students on the Neva waterfront at dawn. A good deal of Gogol-style grotesque is written into the Nameday festivities, including antics worthy of a crude stand-up comedian, by Buyanov and Zaretsky, both permanently drunk. Olga and her mother are irrepressible, volatile, open-hearted souls, like Midwestern girls from a healthy American musical. Except for Vyazemsky, the guests in full court uniform that fill the St. Petersburg salon are largely caricature—not unlike what Onegin’s malicious imagination drew for him on that fatal day when he found himself at a party he didn’t like. In this boisterous company, our two romantic leads stood somewhat apart.

By an accident of casting, both were exotic in a European, Old-School way. (Tim Vasen, the director, relies on such accidents: even for the leading roles he does not recruit, but works with whomever turns up to audition.) In our 2007 Boris Godunov, we were able to celebrate Pushkin’s biracial ancestry with African-American actors playing Vorotynsky, the two Pushkins, Pimen, the Tavern Hostess, and Basmanov. The pool that turned up in 2011 for Eugene Onegin was different, although still varied. Tatyana (Elena Garadja), a major in Philosophy, was quatra-lingual and a native speaker of Russian. “The first poem I learned by heart was the first stanza from Chapter Five [on the arrival of the Russian winter],” she admitted. It was simply impossible to place her accent or intonation on stage (English through German and French from a Russian base).[20] Onegin (Gabriel Crouse), who knew Russian too, was South African, with clipped distinct English recalling the Commonwealth (Australia, New Zealand). He became a master at establishing the beat of the play—in the stanza, in his rocking chair, even, as he confessed, in his heart.[21] These two actors spoke to each other above, and around, the more mainstream mid-brow American accent elsewhere in the script, complete with goony dancing, visual gags, and buffoonery. “As if” in a dream of their own, the two principals could, on occasion, ignore and even override the fact that in real time and space their loving did not coincide. Again recall Simon Morrison on Prokofiev: the “isolated mysteries” of Tatyana’s music—and the mystery is Onegin’s when he is suffused with her—do not narrate events, but denote “a subjective interior where recollections and impressions coalesce.”

The potentials of the dream, with actors secure in a world of “as-if” that draws a charmed circle around the two lovers, brings us to the final bit of after-the-fact “theater theory” in this Eugene Onegin retrospective: the ideas of Nikolai Evreinov (b. 1879 Moscow, d. 1953 Paris). This eclectic playwright, artist, musician, director, and indefatigable proponent of “theatricality” (teatral´nost´) in all areas of human life, won a respectable place in Russian theater history through experimental productions across an astonishing range of dramatic genres. He produced historic restorations at his Antique Theater (Starinnyi teatr) in 1907–08 and 1911–12, miniature satires and buffonnades in the Crooked Mirror (Krivoe zerkalo) between 1910 and 1916, and in 1920 he managed the first Bolshevik mass spectacle, the Storming of the Winter Palace, with a cast of thousands and the real Petrograd Palace Square as set. What links all these dramatic enterprises of vastly different scale was Evreinov’s belief that the “will to theater” is an instinct as powerful and essential to life as air, food, and the reproductive urge.[22] Animals and young children play constantly, for fun but also for survival. The vigor of our dream life is proof of our biological need to play out a scene, interrogate it, and act in it, all while watching it. In one whimsical theoretical piece, a dialogue of the dead titled “Sud ponimaiushchikh” (The Court, or Judgment, of Those Who Understand), Evreinov records a delightful dream of his own, in which he summons up his mentors—Schopenhauer, E. T. A. Hoffmann, Nietzsche, Tolstoy, Sologub, Andreyev, Bergson, and Oscar Wilde—to debate, and eventually to confirm, the will to theater and the mandate to “stage,” for oneself alone, the deepest experiences of one’s own life.[23]

Before his emigration in 1925, Evreinov produced massive essays on his major concepts: “The Theater as Such,” “Theater for Oneself,” “Theater Among the Animals,” “Theatrotherapy,” and the deity (to whom Evreinov prayed ceaselessly) “Theatrarch.”[24] To close the present essay we draw on only two of Evreinov’s polemical ideas—and even then, only on that single point where they intersect in a way relevant to the dramatization of Tatyana Larina. The first is the genre of monodrama, familiar to the Symbolist period through the dream-plays of Strindberg and Maeterlinck. Evreinov first experimented with the form in 1909, writing his own ex–emplary play in the genre, Predstavlenie liubvi (A Representation, or Performance, of Love) and prefacing it with a polemical essay.[25] Monodrama does not mean monologic. It refers not to voiced utterance but to visual perspective or focus, and appears to have something in common with the lyric impulse. The second idea is that of a “theater for oneself.” By this phrase Evreinov meant the exercise of our theatrical instinct solely for our own good, at any time and anywhere, in scenes of any length and with only ourselves as witness.

Evreinov and Tairov were equally devoted to the centrality of the actor’s art. But Tairov, understandably, was made nervous by any invitation to dilettantism, which his Kamernyhad so bravely resisted in the face of “naturalistic” theater and the myths of an indiscriminate sobornost´. At the end of his Notes of a Director, he concedes that Evreinov “not without reason” called for a “theatricalization of life” in mass spectacle, carnival, folk fests and free joyous games (Zapiski 188/139–40). But on his final page, Tairov counters this slogan with a passionate call of his own: for the “Theatricalization of Theater” (192/143). Had his Onegin made it into rehearsal in 1936 and Tairov had his way, every movement in it would have been “Theater raised to the T power,” choreographed into camera-ready tableaux. Our production in 2012 had a looser, more improvisatory feel to many of its parts. This can be explained partially by American twenty-first-century pace and style, athletic in a far less studied manner. Partially it was because our actors, Elena and Gabriel especially, who owned most of the lines, worked hard to avoid any overly self-conscious declamation—inappropriate, we felt, for this private, almost whispered work of art. But it now seems there were also “Evreinov elements” that we pursued, unlabeled as such at the time but tending toward his ends. The aims and internal perspectives of monodrama helped us resolve the presentation, and preservation, of a fragile lyrical subject. That task could be accomplished crudely and almost parodically, as Evreinov was wont to do; his 1912 monodrama V kulisakh dushi (In the Stage Wings of the Soul), for example, takes place within the human torso and is peopled by the soul’s three aspects—rational, emotional, subliminal—plus the “concepts” of wife and mistress that each insists on considering real. A monodrama, self-absorbed by definition, could play cruel or voyeuristic tricks on the outside world, as several of Evreinov’s samplings of the genre suggest. But in our Onegin, we adjusted the concept to the purity of the heroine. In Pushkin’s novel, the Narrator cares mostly about Tatyana, wrapping her in multiple protective veils and hiding her face from the reader. In the play, the Poet-Playwright cares mostly about Onegin, with whom he both identifies and competes, and lets the heroine make her own way at her own risk, in her own body. Tatyana proves equal to this trust. But she is still the same shy, inward self. Her willingness to endure “performance,” on a stage that required of her discipline and purpose but spared her the awful vulnerability of audience, became for her (and consequently for us) a mode of moral self-instruction.

Evreinov’s Monodramatic Moment and Tatyana’s “Theater for Herself”

Evreinov was convinced that monodrama could enable a “co-experiencing” between actor and audience. This value was as central to his aesthetics as it was to Leo Tolstoy’s infection theory of art. Since (Evreinov argues) our perceptual abilities and attention spans are limited, any aesthetically significant effect must be focused and unified. Monodrama can achieve this focus, being a “dramatic presentation that strives to communicate to the spectator as fully as possible the state of mind of the acting person.”[26] To be sure, success at co-experience requires first that a central “active participant” be identified through whose singular mind the emotions would flow. Then every detail on the theatrical set would have to be manipulated in order to appear to spectators in the hall exactly as the actor, at that moment, was supposedly perceiving it. In the theater, Evreinov insists, “we hear more with our eyes than with our ears” (187). The technical difficulty of staging monodrama was a matter of some concern. (In A Performance of Love, for example, the set must move from sunny, vibrant and lush to drab and bleakly empty in an instant, upon the lover’s disappointed or jealous thought.) Both cinema projection and bold lighting sequences offer promising solutions to such split-second transformations. And even if a full-length monodrama proves difficult to sustain, monodramatic “moments” are always possible and pay their way.

Evreinov’s prototypical example of such a moment is the ghost on stage (188–89). We experience for a brief stretch of time the same terror as does Hamlet on the parapet or in Gertrude’s closet, even if the stage cannot continue to body forth the full reality of individual visions. “Dreams and lingering hallucinations” are especially good material for monodrama; here belong model plays by Hauptmann, Maeterlinck, Andreyev (190). But Evreinov at this point delivers an important caveat that will matter crucially to our dramatization of Tatyana Larina, Pushkin’s lyrical Muse. It is not monodramatic to portray a theatrical dreamscape from some generalized perspective, in some on-stage “kingdom of reverie“ or “kingdom of magical dreams” (190). Maeterlinck’s poetic dramas err in this regard, Evreinov felt; the dream emanated from the stage itself, not from an embodied Dreamer, and was thus the property of “some sort of ‘everyman’” acting “outside of time and space.” The result was a false message without a concrete source in a human actor, a lyric projection without a lyrical agent, “in short, a life of illusion and not an overt life” (190). And as mere illusion, no audience would co-experience it.

Krzhizhanovsky (who, to my knowledge, nowhere discusses Evreinov) would surely concur. He was a careful student of psychology and believed that uttered words could take on the force of palpable things. In his work on dreams in Shakespeare from the mid-1930s, he remarks that “only theater can force waking reality to slide by with the velocity of a dream, but slide by in such a way that this hyper-real speed does not rupture the links between real phenomena or cast them wholly into dream.”[27] When things move fast, polished surfaces slip, lose their grip; but the morally anchored Tatyana abides. In his “Stanza by Stanza Through Onegin,” discussing the reading matter preferred by his two romantic leads (the Sentimental novel versus the Byronic text), Krzhizhanovsky notes that “Tatyana rushes events along; Onegin cannot keep up with them” (SK:ss 4, 433). Onegin and Tatyana dream at different tempos. In the play text, her dream (Fragment 8) has pride of place on two levels, full of rapid and dizzying events, emotions, risk, which not only do not rupture her relation with real outside life but positively instruct her in it. She co-experiences her Dream as “theater for herself.” In keeping with the rules of that genre, she is spared all embarrassment or shame—those emotions are transmuted first into excitement, then into terror. But something is soldered in her after she confronts her Dream. Not until the very end does she—or for that matter, we—know for sure whether this iron resolve is a weakness or a strength.

Onegin’s trajectory in the play is different, but also deeply dreamful. (Surprisingly for the Tatyano-centric Russian tradition, Krzhizhanovsky takes Onegin’s suffering seriously and permits him to grow through it; that too Tairov found suspect.) Onegin begins to slip into dream at the end of Fragment 12, under Tatyana’s influence, and then loses himself entirely on the blue pre-dawn Neva waterfront (Fragment 13). But he has no images to work with, no stage reality. He has only his remembered and regretted words. With them he curls up on his cold bench, in a position that recalls the Playwright of the opening few moments of the play. At this point in his isolation, Onegin begins to be visited by his alter-egos: the Two Friends, the Poet (the “dream’s custodian”), who progress downstage mechanically, to a drumbeat—or is it a heart beat? They talk about him but not with him. The final leave-taking with Tatyana is unbearably distanced, even as the play inevitably creates a fantasy “as-if” dialogue out of face-to-face utterances mixed with mediated letters. The ottoman in that final Fragment is the site for some sort of denouement. But it is not (as Matt Spellberg intuited) “meta-theatrical,” with a single director, or even a single master-actor, in control. Creator and creature take leave of each other. Prokofiev wrote no music for the final scene.


Princeton University


[1] For this performance (11 June 2013), with A. Semyonov as Prokofiev and M. Levitin as Meyerhold, see http://meloman.ru/concert/cikl-prosvetitelskih-koncertovvladimir-yurovskij-dirizhiruetbri-rasskazyvaet/.

[2] The fifth volume of Krzhizhanovsky’s Collected Works, devoted to his theater works, unfinished projects, and juvenilia, contains two original plays and one pantomime (out of SK’s ten works for the stage), but none of the adaptations or libretti. For a mention of Onegin in a list of dramas not included in the volume, see commentary to Sigizmund Krzhizhanovskii, Sobranie sochinenii v piati tomakh, ed. Vadim Perel´muter (Moscow–St. Petersburg: b.s.g. press/Symposium, 2010), 5: 525. Further references to the Collected Works (which added a sixth volume in 2012) will appear as SK:ss + volume number and page.

[3] See Caryl Emerson, “The Krzhizhanovsky-Prokofiev Collaboration on Eugene Onegin, 1936 (A Lesser-Known Casualty of the Pushkin Death Jubilee),” introductory essay, commentary, and non-metric English translation, in Sergey Prokofiev and His World, ed. Simon Morrison (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008), 60–189. Interested parties may contact the author for video-documents at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

[4] Strong literary narrators are a perennial fascination to the performing arts. In 1940 the librettist Anatoly Mariengof proposed the Resurrection project as an opera first to Dmitri Shostakovich and then to Sergei Prokofiev. See Anna A. Berman, “Scripting Katyusha: On the Way to an Operatic Adaptation of Resurrection,” Slavic and East European Journal 55: 3 (Fall 2011): 396–417. Mariengof inserted into his libretto lines from Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin (which Maslova is reading in her bedroom when Nekhlyudov comes knocking); had Prokofiev taken this project on, he might have recycled into it some music from 1936. Berman astutely suggests that the presence of Pushkin’s novel in the libretto prefigures Katyusha’s eventual rejection of Nekhlyudov’s proposal of marriage, just as Tatyana will reject Onegin’s offer of love outside of marriage (405–06).

[5] Aleksandr Tairov, Zapiski rezhissera (Moscow: Izdanie Kamernogo teatra, 1921), repr. in A. Ia. Tairov, Zapiski rezhissera: Stat´i. Besedy. Rechi. Pis´ma (Moscow: VTO, 1970): 71–192. In English, see Alexander Tairov, Notes of a Director, trans. and introduced by William Kuhlke (Coral Gables, FL: University of Miami Press, 1969). Further references to this work in text and notes as Zapiski followed by Russian page/English page, translation occasionally adjusted for precision or tone.

[6] Tairov makes this case against those two flanking rival Moscow theaters in chapter 1, “Pro Domo Sua,” referring to his Kamerny as the “Teatr Emotsional´no-nasyshchennykh Form,” or alternatively as the “Theater of Neo-Realism” (Tairov, Zapiski rezhissera, 106/Notes of a Director, 65.)

[7] Tairov tells the story of the American actor William Butts, who in 1909 so authentically performed Iago in a production of Othello in Chicago that an outraged army officer in the audience drew his firearm and shot Butts dead on stage. When he realized what he had done, the distraught officer shot himself on the spot. “The Americans,” Tairov comments, “knowing how to make a sensation even out of death, buried them with great ceremony in one grave, topped by a monument with the following inscription: ‘To the ideal actor and the ideal spectator.’ Think what you’d like, but if we have many such ideal spectators, everywhere in place of theater we’ll have graveyards” (Zapiski 186/137).

[8] For a survey of these productions, see the section on “Alexander Tairov, 1885–1950” in Nick Worrall, Modernism to Realism on the Soviet Stage: Tairov—Vakhtangov—Okhlopkov (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 15–75, esp. 29, 30–31, 58–61. In her memoirs, Alisa Koonen confessed to never liking the role of Saint Joan; she was a tragic actress, she explained, and Shaw’s endless witticisms exhausted her. Vishnevsky’s socialist realist Commissar was more suited to her melodramatically heightened and largely humorless repertory of acting styles. See Alisa Koonen, Stranitsy zhizni [written in the 1960s, prepared for print 1975] (Moscow: Moi 20-yi vek [Federal´naia programma knigoizdaniia Rossii], 2003), 392–93.

[9] On 14 July 1938, Krzhizhanovsky wrote drily to Bovshek: “Таиров вдруг загорелся желанием возобновить хлопоты об ‘Онегине’. Он снова связался с Прокофьевым. Боюсь, как бы он мне не напортил, этот несурадный человек” (Suddenly Tairov is burning with desire to renew the fuss over “Onegin.” He’s again made contact with Prokofiev. I’m afraid he’ll again make a mess of things for me, that muddled fellow). “Несурадный человек” could refer to Tairov, to Onegin, or to both. Nothing came of the probe. See Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky, “Perepiska Sigizmunda Krzhizhanovskogo i Anny Bovshek,” letter 44 (1938) dated 14/VII, in SK:ss 6, pp. 85–86.

[10] The remarkable Colta.ru site has posted video clips from several Tairov productions: two by Eugene O’Neill from 1926, The Hairy Ape and Desire Under the Elms; Optimistic Tragedy (1933), and Egyptian Nights (1934). See Ada Shmerling, “Neizvestnyi Tairov: Piat´ spektaklei Kamernogo teatra na kinoplenke,” accessed June 2013, http://www.colta.ru/docs/21353.Recordings of Koonen’s voice are available at http://staroeradio.com/program.

[11] Iu. M. Lotman, “Teatr i teatral´nost´ v stroe kul´tury nachala XIX veka” (1973), in Iu. M. Lotman, Izbrannye stat´i v trekh tomakh (Tallinn: Aleksandra, 1992), 1: 269–86, quoted phrase on 272. The essay is in English in Henryk Baran, ed. and trans., Semiotics and Structuralism: Readings from the Soviet Union (White Plains, NY: International Arts and Sciences Press, 1976), as Iu. M. Lotman, “Theater and Theatricality in the Order of Early Nineteenth Century Culture,” 33–63, esp. 37.

[12] See Simon Morrison, “The Pushkin Centennial,” in The People’s Artist: Prokofiev’s Soviet Years (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 120–33. Subsequent page numbers in text.

[13] Krzhizhanovsky had been hired for some part-time work (1929–35) editing films, and his 1937 essay on the stage direction (remarka) ends with praise for the verbal script in the era of (presumably silent) cinema. Clearly he saw a connection between these two technical parts of the visual-acting artwork. “For a long time the stage direction served texts,” he writes. “Then it began to protest and demand emancipation. Finally it received its freedom: in the film scenario. Cinema is the kingdom of the pure stage direction. […] It’s no longer a guest in others’ houses, but at home in its own. Even in sound film, for the time being, audible words are in subjection to mute words. Here, finally, the heroine of this article, the stage direction, has succeeded in throwing off the crooked crutches of the parentheses and confidently begins to step into the fully-lit field of the screen.” See “Teatral´naia remarka (fragment),” in SK:ss 4: 89–109, esp. 108. The essay was published with some cuts in the journal Teatr, no. 6 (September 1937): 127–33.

[14] See “Po strofam ‘Onegina,’” in SK:ss IV: 416–49, esp. 438–39. Ruslan’s death is not permanent, of course, in the genre of mock fairy-tale; Lensky’s death in the novel and the drama is irreversible.

[15] For this reason we mounted two versions of the Onegin project in February 2012. On 8 February, the Princeton Symphony Orchestra under Rossen Milanov performed Prokofiev’s music in its entirety, for forty instrumentalists, in a large concert hall. Woven into this musical score were excerpts of the play read live in Russian and a danced staging (both ballroom and modern) of major Onegin epi–sodes, choreographed by Sydney Schiff, who danced Tatyana. The Princeton Glee Club performed Prokofiev’s choral pieces. The second version of Onegin, premiering in a studio theater on February 10 for a six-day run, realized Krzhizhanovsky’s playtext fully in English, with music performed by pianist Anna Tchetchetkine (Princeton class of 2012). This essay discusses only the second production.

[16] Vera Zubareva, opening essay in the forum “Eugene Onegin at Princeton University,” in the Prokofiev journal Three Oranges, no. 23 (May 2012): 21–22.

[17] Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky, “Filosofema o teatre,” in SK:ss IV, 43–88. Further page references in text.

[18] Alisa Ballard, “Быт Encounters Бы: Krzhizhanovsky’s Theater of Fiction,” in Forum: Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky, 1887–1950, Slavic and East European Journal 56: 4 (Winter 2012): 553–76. Subsequent page references in text.

[19] “M.K.T. i ego tema,” in “Stat´i, zametki, retsenzii, opublikovannye v ezhenedel´nike ‘7 dnei moskovskogo Kamernogo teatra,’” in SK:ss 4: 642–46, quote on p. 643. Further page references in text.

[20] “I was excited and terrified to play Tatiana,” Garadja wrote in her testimonial. “Her motives have always seemed to me too romantic to be moral or reasonable. […] Prokofiev’s music directly helped guide my voice and body movements. The music for Tatiana showed her as much more passionate than I had originally thought her to be. And Krzhizhanovsky too brings out the impulsive and passionate in her. […] Still I struggled to understand Tatiana’s motives at the end, her real reasons for rejecting Onegin, and often I felt disapprovingly of her decision, thinking that she becomes, if not frozen, then a “knight of resignation” preserving the memory of love rather than taking a risk. […] She incorporates an aesthetic, a crazy aesthetic—that of Krzhizhanovsky, the unknown penniless writer who gave up everything but inspiration.”

[21]“If lives have parts, then the part of mine called Eugene Onegin is, in its own way, the one of my Princeton career,” Crouse wrote in 2012. “A canny playboy was the discretionary warning against Onegin. Coy or concise? […] Eugene was a man, not much older than me, with a back not much straighter than mine and a heart that bled, the way that hearts bleed. The words had their own beating heart, also essential. However, the pulse, the irresistible rhythm of Pushkin’s verse was a life-force that intimidated me: what does it mean to sustain a beat through a theatrical performance? […] Tim made it clear that there was an opportunity to use the creaking rhythm of the rocking chair’s back-and-forth to “underscore” scenes II and IV with a pulse. […] I decided that I didn’t need to rock for the audience, to telegraph the cadence of the play. I could rock at Lensky, bringing him down to a complacent largo; or let his poetic recitations carry me off, back and forth. Having reflected on that feeling of spontaneous manipulation, I felt more comfortable exploring other, elastic, beats for the play.”

[22] For an overview of Evreinov’s career from an informed but critical (at times even disapproving) perspective, see Sharon Marie Carnicke, The Theatrical Instinct: Nikolai Evreinov and the Russian Theatre of the Early Twentieth Century (New York: Peter Lang, 1989).

[23] In Evreinov, Demon Teatral´nosti (see n. 24 below), 321–50, included as chap. 3 in “Teatr dlia sebia kak iskusstvo”; for an abridged translation that omits Sologub and his “Theater of a Single Will” (his lines are given to Evreinov and Andreyev), see Evreinoff, The Theater of Life (n. 24): 199–296.

[24] The first English-language selection of Evreinov’s major writings was made in 1927 and is still very serviceable: Nicolas Evreinoff, The Theatre in Life, ed. and trans. Alexander I. Nazaroff, introduction by Oliver M. Sayler (New York: Brentano’s Publishers, 1927). A huge, well annotated collection of his major works appeared in Russian as Nikolai Evreinov, Demon teatral´nosti (Moscow–St. Petersburg: Letnii sad, 2002).

[25] This strange monodrama is something of a bibliographical rarity. It is included, with illustrations and preface (pp. 51–57), in Studiia Impressionistov, kniga 1-aia, ed. N. I. Kul´bin (St. Petersburg: Tipografiia Morskogo Ministerstva, 1910), as “Predstavlenie liubvi, Monodrama v trekh deistv,” 49–127. The cast of characters are: “I” (Я), “My little friend” (Мой маленький друг), “She! She!” (Она! Она!), “My Rival” (Мой соперник), the “catarrhal subject” (Катаральный субъект), and the “hemorrhoidal type” (гемороидальный тип).

[26] “Predislovie k Predstavleniiu liubvi,” in ibid., 52. For a translation of the 1909 version of the “Monodrama” lecture, see Nikolay Evreinov, “Introduction to Monodrama,” in Russian Dramatic Theory from Pushkin to the Symbolists, trans. and ed. Laurence Senelick (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1981), 183–99. Yet another version of the monodrama essay is translated, freely and with commentary, by the most astute American eyewitness of Russian theater during the early Bolshevik years: Oliver M. Sayler, The Russian Theatre under the Revolution (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1920), chap. 14 (“Yevreynoff and Monodrama”), 221–44. Further page references in text to the most accessible English-language version, which is Senelick’s.

[27] “Komediografiia Shekspira,” SK:ss 4: 35. For more on dreams, see my discussion in “Krzhizhanovsky as a Reader of Shakespeare and Bernard Shaw,” in Forum: Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky, 1887–1950, Slavic and East European Journal 56: 4 (Winter 2012): 577–611, esp. 594–601.