Russian classics in Berlin: Tolstoy did it so well

What a contrast! The Ukrainian colors hang over the entrance to the Deutsches Theater, and inside, in the Großes Haus, a new play is playing that, these days, would not be better shown in this form at a politically alert, artistically responsible state theatre. Where is the managerial office? Is there a dramaturgy that takes a closer look at such naive nonsense and intervenes?

That’s what happened: Armin Petras, a well-known director in Berlin, who was also the head of the Maxim Gorki Theater, took on Leo Tolstoy’s “Resurrection”. Six hundred pages, broken down into just under three and a half hours. There is always a lot of shrinkage with adaptations of novels. But here one wants to be ashamed. Petras doesn’t even tell the baseline of the story in his “adaptation”. And he certainly doesn’t create anything like atmosphere or a place, a point in time where something could play out that can be summarized as follows: A young nobleman impregnates a domestic worker, they are probably also a little in love. Years later he sees her again in court, who now works as a prostitute. She’s charged with murder but innocent, he’s on the jury. Siberia, is the verdict. He throws everything away and follows her into exile.

Embarrassing stereotypes

No happy ending. Just endless guilt and atonement and religious education. But Tolstoy’s last novel from 1899 also reads surprisingly well – as a legal thriller, as a massive indictment of the Russian system, a book full of grandiose descriptions of the landscapes and the mental states of its protagonists.

But on the DT stage you only get to see embarrassing clichés. Actors on the ramp mimicking and doing. In the first part, Petras lets a farce play out, a Russian fairy tale with cardboard figures, and he also botches Tolstoy’s work pointlessly when he makes poor Katja even younger. Here she is thirteen, in Tolstoy’s eighteen years old, when what can actually only be described as rape happens. Doesn’t matter because any kind of relationship never develops between the actors anyway. It is quite a feat to defuse the old Tolstoy in his massive social criticism in such a way. So quirky and a little crazy and backward these Russians, how harmless!

waste of time and money

After the break – the impulse to flee was rarely stronger – it gets much worse. The scenery changes from the cozy to the exuberant. You can’t believe it: banishment can be really cool. Everyone gets along great, everyone laughs, the revolutionaries happily babble on about Darwin’s theory of evolution and who knows what else, Katja also feels at home here. Only the prince runs grumpily around in circles with his suitcase. And when he finds out that the woman he’s trying to save is going to marry someone else, he says: Oh, that’s how it is. It doesn’t matter.

The music is booming, techno party in the prison camp. A young actress undresses, has to undress – director’s idea! – and smeared himself with red paint. You think you are dreaming. What world does this director live in? Is that just wrong and unsuccessful, or maybe a cynical commentary on the Russian invasion and barbarism in the Ukraine, in front of the embassy around the corner, near the Deutsches Theater, flowers are laid and candles are lit? Didn’t anyone in the house see the disaster coming?

The program includes a speech by Tolstoy against the war. Printing costs are wasted money, just as this “resurrection” wastes time and resources. This is how theater makes itself superfluous, now.

By Editor

Leave a Reply