The School of Dramatic Arts’ rendition of Gorky’s Barbarians was, on many levels, a
failure. It is noteworthy that the play is not nearly Gorky’s best work to begin with, but even so,
the production suffered form a myriad of other factors. The directorial vision for the show
seemed confused, missing some key aspects of characters, and the actors struggled as a result.
The show also dragged on, and the choice to have two intermissions was questionable. Due to a
slow set change between acts 1 and 2, it seems unlikely that the set change between 3 and 4
could have happened without the intermission. The four-act structure is slightly awkward, but
the solution is likely better rehearsal on tech elements.
This stage tech failure also reared its head when lights would suddenly turn on, and
sound design elements abruptly erupted into noise. Greatly distracting for the audience, the
tech in the show ran antithetical to its role of enhancing theatre. If these factors were by
design, then the directors’ vision should be questioned further. One of the most curious choices
made throughout the play concerned Nadiezhda. Dressed in all white, the character was
portrayed as an ingénue of sorts, but the text speaks directly to the contrary. Nadiezhda is a
dark and mysterious force, but throughout the play, she was alluring in all the wrong ways. On
the other hand, Bogayevskaya, who is the matron of the house, was interpreted as suffering
from Alzheimer’s. The director justifies this through her struggling with playing cards in act
four. While there is no direct contradiction to this in the play, it is much less reasonable to
assume this than it is to deduct she is frustrated by her lack of agency in improving the world. In
fact, this aligns much better with Gorky’s actual message of the show. As Lydia says near the
end of the show, she is looking for a hero.
Barbarians is undoubtedly a difficult show and even more so when there are
questionable interpretations from the director, but there were some actors who did not seem
to fully grasp their characters. The Cherkoon, leading man and center of the drama, managed to
find the brutality of the character, but he lacked any charm or nuance. One of the scenes that
made little sense took place between Cherkoon and his love interest Lydia. At the beginning of
the affair, the initial moment of attraction, Cherkoon sits down at his desk and almost ignores
Lydia. There was no plausible attraction in a scene about seduction. Lydia also missed the mark
throughout the show. As the voice of Gorky, it is necessary for her to be not only likable for the
audience, but for other characters. Instead she was an ice queen who it seems unlikely that
anyone could love. Ultimately, the show struggled to engage its audience. Nonetheless, it
should be understood that the Gorky play was a great task.
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