Friday, August 9, 2013

Eleanor and Henry

I suppose if you had been locked away in a castle only to come out at Christmas time each year, you would be on the verge of madness, but Eleanor holds herself like a true queen in this Russian adaptation of The Lion in Winter.

The play closed the Summer International Drama Festival in Druskininkai, hosted by Rimas Tuminas.  We had earlier seen an excellent Russian adaptation of Medea with Julia Rutberg.  The old theater at the Egles sanitorium has seen its better days, and the stifling heat must have been a challenge for the actors, as they were all dressed for winter in their heavy robes.

It was only afterward that I made the connection, as I struggled through the darkly comic dialog, relying on my wife to give me a recap at intermission and when the play was over.  I was truly held spellbound by the great performance of Liudmila Chiursina as Eleanor and the wonderfully charismatic Sergei Kolesnikov as Henry, her despotic husband.

The play has been recast many times over the years, with the most recent incarnation by Andrei Konchalovsky in 2003.  Andrei seems to have made the US his home away from home, having done many American productions since he established his fame with Siberiade.  Patrick Stewart, who played Henry, personally wanted Konchalovsky to direct the film.

Of course, the classic film version remains that with Katherine Hepburn and Peter O'Toole in 1968.  However, nothing beats a great theatrical production, and I'm sure James Goldman would have greatly enjoyed this Russian telling of Eleanor and her Men (Элинор и ее мужчины) by Alexander Burdonski.

Friday, August 2, 2013


One of the difficulties in following contemporary Russian writers is that there is a notable lag in translation of novels.  Viktor Pelevin's 2011 book, S.N.U.F.F. remains inaccessible to most non-Russian speakers, and he has since come out with Batman Apollo which continues his fascination with vampires.  One has to be content with fragments for the time being.

Pelevin is perhaps the best known contemporary Russian writer, whose books are now finding their way into film, such as Generation "П" in 2011.  Given its success, you figure more film versions are in the planning.  

Although Pelevin's books have been ostensibly about the void left from the collapse of the Soviet Union and the attempt to fill it with Ameircan-style consumerism, there is a deeper reading in each one, as this is clearly someone who understands the psychological underpinnings of the chaotic world many Russians find themselves living in.  Given his flair for a good action yarn, his books are very accessible to non-Russian readers, presuming you can find them in your native language.

In many ways, Pelevin is the Kurt Vonnegut of contemporary Russian literature.  His notion of science fiction is anything but standard.  His first book, Omon Ra (1992) is a wonderful satirical look at a decaying Soviet space program, hanging on by the thinnest of threads.

"П" was released as Babylon in the UK, and a number of other small books have been translated by Andrew Bromfield.  Unfortunately, Pelevin's 2006 novel, Empire V, has yet to be translated into English.  One can only assume Bromfield is working on it.  He certainly made Babylon accessible to the English reader in a very good translation.