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Man From The USSR & Other Plays: And Other Plays (1985)

Man From The USSR & Other Plays: And Other Plays (1985)
3.48 of 5 Votes: 5
0156569450 (ISBN13: 9780156569453)
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Man From The USSR & Other Plays: And ...
Man From The USSR & Other Plays: And Other Plays (1985)

About book: This book confirms my opinion of Nabokov as a dramatist (see my review for _The Waltz Invention): I know he thought he could do it all, but he never really had a good grasp of the art of playwriting, let alone the translation of text into the visual realm of the theater. This volume contains four plays. The title play and two short verse dramas are very early works from the mid-1920s and can be dismissed as youthful experiments. The fourth, however, _The Event_, is a mature work from the height of Nabokov's career (produced in Paris and, later, New York in the late 1930s). _The Event_ is quite a good play and is the one redeeming feature of this collection. It was an unusual play for its time period (the "event" actually occurred in the past and, I felt, may have really been two different events for the husband and wife who are the center of the dramatic action); the fourth wall comes very close to being broken (and I can see how actors might be tempted to, in fact, break it during a performance); it contains an apparent mental conversation between two characters during a dull group reading of a story by another character; and the "villain" of the piece, if he is indeed a villain (there is some ambiguity on this point) is a very strange character, having many of the personal idiosyncrasies of future Nabokovian scoundrels such as Humbert Humbert from _Lolita_ or the King of "Zembla" who edits, annotates (and perhaps writes) the poem in _Pale Fire_. _The Event_ shows that Nabokov could write a compelling play...when he wrote it using the conventions of his fiction rather than what he evidently considered to be the usual conventions of drama. I base this conclusion on the two essays on theater also contained in this volume, based on 1941 lectures Nabokov gave at Stanford, in which he is generally grumpy and pessimistic about the modern theater (for instance, he deplores the breaking of the fourth wall: audiences should not be INCLUDED in the action of the play, but sit quietly and watch; one gets the idea that his grasp of the history of the theater was quite weak, since that sort of passive viewing really only became a convention during the 19th century). Finally, the introductions to the pieces, written by Nabokov's son (and translator) Dmitri, reveal the son to be even more reactionary and ridiculous than his father in many matters (his deploring of the "new" violence in drama and on screen, for instance, is based on a misreading of Nabokov's second essay in this volume on Tragedy). All told, the reader should focus on _The Event_ and leave the other minor pieces to gather the dust such miscellany is destined for.
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