Highway to hell
One day in July, an old man’s house burns down, and he finds himself without a roof over his head and everything he needs for everyday life. So, he asks his neighbour whether he could stay with him for two months while he sorts out everything he needs to go to a lunatic asylum in Smolensk and there to live out the rest of his days in peace. Upon his neighbour’s firm refusal, something impulsively triggers in the old man that leads to an escalation of all that is perverse, and to all those he meets, he becomes a doom far more dangerous than an all-consuming fire.
In their production of July, the students of acting from the Academy of Performing Arts draw on the themes of the play by Ivan Vyrypaev. The original play is characteristic for its rough language and the maniacal tendencies of the main male character. It is all the more interesting that the actors have chosen puppets, which depict the individual characters of the story, as the main means of expression in their production. This gives rise to a very ambivalent perception of a dramatic persona, though not in a negative way.
At the beginning, the puppet of the old man gives the impression of a defenceless, wrinkled and emaciated creature, whose physical vessel and movements inspire pity. It is then all the more shocking when this figure of a man stoically tells the audience – down to the smallest detail – how he murders not only animals but also people. There is no single profound reason for this; it just comes as naturally to him as other everyday activities. At each dead person, a white moth with fluttering wings appears as a symbol of a departing soul seeking its way to paradise where it will reach salvation and will be freed from the pain it had to endure. Only the old man, paralyzed with fear at his own dying, is speaking to the soul of his mother. However, his soul never leaves his body.
Only at the very end is the viewer able to grasp the overall structure of the production and its temporal continuity. At the beginning, three women (live actresses) in black dresses are sitting at a funeral feast. This scene is followed by the de facto independent story of the old man, which concludes with his departure from this world. The whole production concludes with an epilogue, in which the three actresses – daughters – arrive (again) and call their father, telling him that they will come and visit him on the first of July; that they will care for him so that at the end of his life he could relax and be happy. The hope in their voices sharply contrasts with the perversions the audience has witnessed so far. It makes one wonder how the old man’s whole story would have played out if his daughters had been able to arrive just one day earlier, the day before the fatal fire.
Unfortunately, the problematic component of the production was the lighting work, which is always crucial in puppetry. Many different types of lights were used, but they were sometimes not accurate in their function. The puppets were forced to finish some action in the dark, since the light was already changing in another part of the set, which led to the blurring of certain details that were important for the overall story.
The most striking part of the set was the road strip suspended from top to bottom right down the middle of the scene. A road that can either lead to heaven or to hell. It just depends on the point of view and the direction one decides to take. And between you and me, it’s always harder going uphill.