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article imageOp-Ed: Russian Play reflects the universal even to today's audiences Special

By Jonathan Farrell     Mar 29, 2017 in Lifestyle
Ross - Humor is sometimes the best defense in the most trying of times and this could be said of The Ross Valley Player's production of 'Way Out West' by San Rafael playwright Joel Eis, which will premiere this coming April 7.
Eis composed an original adaptation of a well-known Russian play called "The Inspector General," by Nikolai Gogol. Changing the location from a village in 19th Century Russia to pre-Gold Rush era San Francisco of 1848 was not that difficult. Gogol was a master satirist and his play as historians point out is adaptable because of its universality.
This reporter was able to get some insight from Buzz Halsing, the director for 'Way Out West.' I mentioned to him that I recognized that the play is based upon a 19th Century Russian comedy called 'The Inspector General' and I can see why it was easy to translate it to a setting in the American West. Yet, I asked Halsing, what is it about this comedy that makes it universal and so available to be adapted?
"It's both a classic farce (as you can see Comedia all through the cast of characters) and a comment on human corruption and failings. Sadly, those things are in vivid display these days all over the world; even here in the U.S. So it's pretty easy to catch the universality of the piece... And, we have had a great deal of fun both with our old Western setting and our modern sensibility."
I read that Nikolai Gogol was among the first great Russian dramatists and that historians consider his work very influential.
Was there anything lost in translation, from the original Russian play? Sort of like when people talk about the difference between British humor and American humor? Or does that matter in this situation?
"I think Joel has kept the best, lost the rest," said Halsing. "I'm no Russian scholar, but I'm guessing that there are some Russian-culture jokes and references in the original work that have faded over time as translations have occurred and evolved. But as in answer to your first question, it's the unversality of the themes which make it work in any language."
Eis commented on the details of his work by saying, "The spirit and intention of the original is not lost. It's enhanced because plays are written to be enjoyed by the people watching them. Second of all, the play is stripped of the 19th century convention, of long winded speeches written for famous actors. These were like little stand-up routines in the middle of the play. The original was full of these little speeches. They are stripped down to the set-up and the punch line. 19th century upper class Russian audiences (the only people to see the original play) were used to an evening in the theatre that went to or beyond midnight. But my play, he said is fast as a pony express horse on open ground."
"I have to give credit here to Buzz (our director)," added Eis. "He has reshaped and honed important aspects of the script to make it a better show. I consider the final product a collaboration — but don't change the posters!"
When we (Americans) think of Russian plays and especially Russian novels, Tolstoy comes to mind and so does Chekov. These are often complex and intricate works. From your perspective... as director of this production of The Ross Valley Players venture, Is comedy harder to do than drama? If so, why or why not?
"As a Director, said Halsing, I definitely think a comedy done well is one which is different than a well-performed drama. The skills are different, he said. But there are a common set of skills that must be there for either, in a nutshell, I'd say that comedy is often more involved than a straight story told as a drama."
Eis agreed as he noted. "Comedy is the most instructive form of humor. It teaches with a smile. Its the oldest form of moral instruction there is. Humor is what makes us human."
Pictured Left to Right:
Pam Drummer-Williams as Pearl Monahan
Paul Stout as Rex Reynard
Keara Reardo...
Pictured Left to Right: Pam Drummer-Williams as Pearl Monahan Paul Stout as Rex Reynard Keara Reardon as Rose Marin Monahan Newton Harband as Mayor Monahan
Robin Jackson
No doubt drama pulls people in more often than not. In this day and age of harsh realities, (terrorism, homelessness, etc) complex systems, technology and an ever growing skeptical world, do you think audiences today, appreciate a simple comedy? Especially an old one?
"I think that people crave a simple comedy," Halsing said. "Sure, there are some who have lost their sense of humor, or even feel that humor is inappropriate, given the risks to our peace, environment, civility, health and freedoms. And, I don't really think that 'simple' is the way to characterize this work of Joel's. I think (the word) 'approachable' is a better way to see it. And in terms of it being an 'old' work... I think that, in theater, terms like 'old' and 'new' might be superseded by 'It's been done too often' and 'a fresh perspective,' he said.
With the airwaves currently filled with political banter, I wanted to ask Halsing. Do you think political satire is as appreciated today as it was back in the 19th and early 20th Century? Why or why not? Is there anything you wanted to emphasize more to the audience in today's contemporary world? What do you think they would not only be able to laugh at, but recognize instantly? Is there anything audiences today would appreciate, even more so, than what audiences understood in the 19th Century?
"Political satire appreciated?" Halsing exclaimed! "I would point you to the successes of Stephen Colbert (The Colbert Report), The Daily Show, Veep and other smash successes in the zeitgeist. Smart, intelligent people crave and appreciate satire," he said. "In my opinion, good satire is always smart, yet approachable and recognizable." Eis pointed out simply, "Demagogues have no sense of humor that's why they are so dangerous. What's funny about this comedy is that its all too human," he added.
With performances every weekend on Thursday evenings at 7:30 PM, Friday and Saturday nights at 8: PM and Sunday mantinees at 2 PM in the afternoon, "Way Out West" (a RAW - Ross Alternative Works program production), begins it's run from April 7 to April 23. For Tickets and more information, visit The Ross Valley Players web site. And, visit the theater company's page on Facebook.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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