By tradition, before the start of the performance, Viktor Panov said a few words about the play, and I was very hooked by the quoted phrase of Anatol France: “It’s better to understand little than badly”. Indeed, each play in the Youth Theater makes the viewer think, rethink, dream and look for answers to all the questions that have arisen, and then visit the theater again to make sure of the results of the work. “The Life Before Us” is the novel by Emile Ajar, staged by Ilya Moschitsky, which most of all resembles a quote by a French writer.
Emile Ajar is the pseudonym of the last century’s famous French writer Romain Gary. By the will of fate or chance, or his inventiveness, Gary is the only author who received two Goncourt prizes: one for the real name for the novel “The Roots of the Sky”, the other – under a pseudonym for the novel “The Life Before Us”. This suggests that in the work itself and its theatrical productions you can expect mystification, understatement, playing with the reader or the audience.
When we enter the auditorium, we immediately draw attention to the apparent demarcation of the real and theatrical world through a curtain of green Chinese glass beads, hung in an oriental manner – at the entrance to the room. Immediately behind the curtain is a video camera aimed at the far wall of the stage. By the way, on the walls are completely plastered with wallpaper with savanna animals depicted on them. Graffiti is on top of the image of the animal world: you can see labels in different languages, schematic drawings like in the Lasko cave, complemented by more contemporary ones (for example, a schematic image of an alien). In the space of the auditorium time is mixed, and we cannot define it with precision. Later, I thought that such a glass-bead curtain can be found when entering a room of a fortune-teller or psychic – maybe the little boy Momo is generally in a session and looks into the future or the past to find the answer to an exciting question?
Yegor Latukhin (little Momo) is the first to enter the scene: his purple sweater is decorated with large pastes. After a few minutes, other characters appear while dancing, and according to their movements, the frequenter of the Youth Theater will easily guess who is who. Each of them has a velvet or shiny element: Evgenia Pletneva (Madame Rosa) has red velvet shoes with an unusual heel shape, Ilya Glushchenko (Dr. Katz) has a shimmering costume, Viktor Begunov (Monsieur Hamil) has square white pastes in a beard, Anastasia Bulanova (Nadin) – high ash-gray leather boots, Anton Chistyakov (Ramon) – yellow velvet pants, Alexandr Beresten – satin orange shirt. Separately stands Stepan Polezhaev (Momo). All his clothes are made of velvet, black patent leather shoes are on his feet, large rings with stones on his hands, large golden earrings are in his ears, manicure and pedicure are covered with red glossy polish. In general, his image stands out against the background of others, and his interpretation (homosexuality? Transgender? Or the idea that Momo unites all people in one person?) depends on the viewer and his thoughts on staging.
The introduction of such a large number of bright materials may enhance the allusiveness of what is happening on the stage, and may contrast with the events of the performance (expensive brightness against the horror and cruelty of life).
During the performance, there are moments, as if the camera, standing at the glass curtain, is jammed by a film or it spontaneously rewinds it further, then back. And then the gaze falls on the TVs, hung on the side walls of the stage – they are close-up on Momo’s monologue, from time to time other characters get there for a short time. However, the memories and people of the past are absolutely not what is broadcasted in the play. Not every one of the characters says aloud even a word. Here the essence of a person is important outside of time and space, outside of the cultural codes. Hence there is the colorful wallpaper with imitation of rock paintings, graffiti, wildlife, even the uniqueness of the appearance of Momo. It is extremely characteristic of this assumption that the long final monologue of little Momo about Personality, filled with philosophy, moralizing, and intimacy, the outcome of which is a thought for ages – We must Love.
Photography: Ekaterina Chashchina