Invitation to a Beheading

Last night I went to Invitation to a Beheading at the Molodyezhny Teatr in Teatral’niy Square.  The book is one of my favorites and I think it was the first book I bought in Russian when I got to St. Petersburg.  I remember being very thrilled with this purchase when I picked it up in the university bookstore there, thinking “some day I will read books in Russian”.  I haven’t read it in Russian yet because I didn’t think I’d be ready for the difficulty of Nabokov, but now, especially after last night I’ve got to.

At first I jumped to by tickets, and I was going to take a friend with me… then I read some online reviews, some of which thought the play was lousy and just “absurd, not Nabokov” and I thought, oh dear, forget about it, I don’t want to see a lousy production of this incredible book, but then my dad, smart guy that he is, told me to go ahead and see it anyway so I went by myself…

It was incredible.  I could get the sense that it was going to be when the curtain first opened, and the sentence of Cincinnatus C. was read in a whisper.  It was a brief scene and meticulously done, everything giving me the impression that somehow this was exactly as I had imagined it.  The play was absurd, and I don’t think it would have made much sense without seeing the book, and wouldn’t have been much fun–in fact, the people sitting next to me seemed displeased and left after the first act.  But it got perfectly the mix of the ridiculous and the very tragic, all the farce making me even more sad for poor Cincinnatus.  Music was used to great effect, blaring, swelling circus music and then the opening of the Goldberg Variations as a recurring theme.  And the ending, as in the book, was the best part.  Somehow when the ending approached–see the picture above–I was holding my breath.  I was nervous for two reasons.  One was that, even having read the book, the play had somehow convinced me to be very afraid that this was the moment it was all ending.  The other reason was that I was desperate for the ending to be perfect because that is the part of the book that made the greatest impression.  It was so amazing.  There was a two-story high prison cell wall that was part of the set, and it fell face down to become a ramp leading up to the place of execution.  And after the crucial moment, the music and the movements of the actors made everything seem to vanish and be carried away in the wind,  and up rose a bridge on which Cincinnatus slowly walked to the end of the stage, all in light, “in that direction where, to judge by the voices, stood beings akin to him”.


One response to “Invitation to a Beheading

  1. Very well done review. It would be interesting to know why people didn’t like the play. Too bad you couldn’t have interrupted the people who left after the first act and interviewed them.

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