Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
MITF ’13: The Past is Still Ahead
remains unclear whether the suicide of poet Marina Ivanovna Tsvetaeva was
staged by the Soviet NKVD or merely the result of their constant threats and
intimidation. Frankly, it hardly matters—Stalin
and his obedient secret police are morally culpable, either way. Playwright Sophia Romma squarely faces the
truths and tragedies of Tsvetaeva’s life with a new production of The Past is Still Ahead, mounted as part
of the 2013 Midtown International Theatre Festival in New York.
a small girl, Tsvetaeva met the Tsar at the opening of what would become the
Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, founded by her father. Obviously, none of that would stand her in
good stead with the Soviet regime. Tsvetaeva
married Sergey Yakovlevich Efron, who became a prominent White Russian
Officer. He was also half-Jewish. Those were probably more than enough strikes
against Tsvetaeva to brand her a class enemy, but her epic verse honoring the
White resistance essentially closed the book on her. Yet, at Efron’s insistence, Tsvetaeva
returned to Russia, predictably enduring a dire existence of internal exile.
the play opens, Tsvetaeva has little illusions regarding her limited future. Increasingly
resigned to her fate, she is visited by visions from her past, including Efron,
her domineering mother Maria Meryn, and her lovers, the guileless Osip
Mandelstam and the scandalous lesbian poet Sophia Parnoc. Yet, it is the memory
of Rainer Maria Rilke, the soul mate she only knew through their correspondence,
that offers her the greatest comfort.
Past portrays Tsvetaeva’s life in
impressionistic fragments, it incorporates decades of Soviet history, accurately
reflecting the chaos and oppression of the era.
The unequivocal depiction of the Party’s anti-Semitism is particularly
eye-opening. Likewise, Tsvetaeva’s
anguished memories of Moscow’s post-Revolutionary famine dramatically
illustrate the human costs of ideology.
little of Tsvetaeva’s actual verse is heard throughout Past, it nonetheless celebrates the power of language. This is most certainly true of her scenes
with Rilke, which tantalizingly imply how their shared literary sensibilities
might have led to greater fulfillment.
However, given the relatively short running time, it seems like Past devotes more than enough time to
Maria Meryn and her severe piano lessons.
In contrast, it seems strange her friend and champion Boris Pasternak
never enters her reveries, especially given his continuing literary prominence.
Alice Bahlke gives a remarkable performance as Tsvetaeva. A smart, sophisticated portrayal that also
conveys how brittle and profoundly damaged Tsvetaeva became, Bahlke makes it
impossible to hang any pat label on Tsvetaeva, like “victim” or “counter-revolutionary,”
which is clearly the whole point. Tosh
Marks is also quite engaging as Rilke, Mandelstam, and Efron, developing some
real stage chemistry with Bahlke in each role.
debuted at Mayakovsky Academic Theater in Moscow with subsequent stagings
produced in New York, Geneva, and Montreal, Past
is now being presenting with its first all-American cast. They do well by Tsvetaeva’s story. An intelligent piece of theater, featuring
stand-out work from Bahlke and Marks, The
Past is Still Ahead concludes its MITF run tonight (7/28) at the Jewel Box
Labels: Marina Tsvetaeva, Sophia Romma