chapter  2
20 Pages

The Theatre of Mystery

The “pre-revolutionary” period of Vakhtangov’s creativity is marked by the director’s search for what he called the “Theatre of Mystery.” The art of psychological naturalism no longer satised Vakhtangov; in fact, his fascination with naturalism ended before he joined the MAT. Similarly, many of the members of the MAT, including Stanislavsky and Sulerzhitsky, refused to be content with what was achieved by the MAT in the productions of Chekhov. During the period between 1898 and 1904, when the MAT originally

approached Chekhov the playwright, Stanislavsky remained under the in‚uence of the Meiningen Ensemble that toured Russia in 1885 and 1890.1 Under the direction of Ludwig Chronegk (1837-1891), the Meiningen Ensemble achieved impressive results in recreating the illusion of the historic reality onstage. Stanislavsky himself claimed that, in the realm of acting, he followed the line of the intuition and feeling in his interpretation of Chekhov. Vakhtangov insisted that Chekhov’s characters, as portrayed by the MAT, were created through the “Meiningen principle projected onto the inner essence of the role.” In other words, according to Vakhtangov, the MAT Chekhovian characters were copied from life, rather than intuitively created. Vakhtangov was not alone in his judgment. Chekhov himself was

dissatised with the MAT’s naturalistic approach to his plays. The reality of an Anton Chekhov play is a unique artistic reality-a creative universe of its own, not just a result of the author’s observation

of life. Vsevolod Meyerhold, who originated the role of Konstantin Treplev in the MAT’s version of The Seagull, was convinced that the success of this production with the audience was determined by the sensitivity of the MAT ensemble, an ensemble capable of perceiving the music of the Chekhovian language. Meyerhold, whose acting was praised by the otherwise critical

Chekhov, was deeply dissatised with the MAT’s naturalistic practices. In 1905, through the support of none other than Stanislavsky himself, Meyerhold was able to experiment with the symbolist theatrical forms at the Povarskaya Street Studio in Moscow. The Studio was closed shortly thereafter by Stanislavsky; Meyerhold’s productions of Maeterlinck’s The Death of Tintagiles and Hauptmann’s Schluck and Jau were seen only by a handful of specialists. Meyerhold continued his search for the forms of theatrical symbolism at the tragic actress Komissarzhevskaya’s Theatre in St. Petersburg. Vera Komissarzhevskaya (1864-1910) was a unique gure in the

Russian theatre at the change of the centuries. The original Nina of the failed Imperial Aleksandrinsky Theatre’s 1897 premiere of Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull, she was the only one of the cast to gain insight into the Chekhovian universe. Highly valued by Chekhov himself, Komissarzhevskaya made her fame in the productions of the contemporary realistic, as well as classical heroic repertoires. Despite her enormous success with Russian audiences, especially with progressively oriented students, Komissarzhevskaya embarked on the quest for the theatre of the future. In‚uenced by the Russian symbolists’ movement at the turn of the twentieth century, she opened her newly created independent theatre company to Meyerhold, and she boldly participated in his formal experiments as both actress and producer. Meyerhold, who conducted his formal experiments with complete

disregard of his contemporary actors’ creative process, only survived at the Komissarzhevskaya’s Theatre for the 1906-1907 season. The failure of her collaboration with Meyerhold did not disillusion Komissarzhevskaya in her search. She continued to be in‚uenced by the Russian symbolists, such as Aleksandr Blok, Andrei Bely, Leonid Andreyev, Valery Bryusov, and Aleksey Remizov. Moreover, Komissarzhevskaya continued to experiment with various forms of theatricality at her company, employing avant-garde directors of the time, such as Alexandre Benois (1870-1960) and Nikolai Evreinov (1879-1953), as well as her own brother Fyodor (Theodore) Komissarzhevsky (1882-1954). At the time of her farewell tour of the Russian provinces in 1909-1910, Vera Komissarzhevskaya made a confession to the author Andrei Bely-in a way, a summary of her

search for the Theatre of the Future. Bely left the following record of their conversation:

She is tired of the stage; the stage broke her; she went through the theatre-new and old; both of them broke her, having left a heavy sense of bewilderment; theatre in the contemporary cultural conditions is an end to a man; it is not theatre that is needed, but the new life; the new act will appear in life; it will come from new people; these people are yet to appear; this is why theatrical innovators’ strivings break off in a perplexed question; we don’t have the actor; he needs to be created; he cannot be created without creating a new man in him; a new man must be cultivated from infancy; … she decided to dedicate her entire experience and the whole force of her strivings to the creation of a new man-actor; an image of a large institution appears in her imagination, almost a kindergarten that would transform into a school, and even a theatrical university; pedagogue-teachers of this hitherto unseen enterprise must be chosen people, who yearn for a man.