Review: A fan of Grishkovetz discovers the artist’s stage side
I would have never thought I would see Yevgeni Grishkovetz (www.odnovremenno.ru) in Yerevan one day, that my interest in him, that the place he and I live might ever coincide. I knew about him from internet – he is a renowned writer, playwright and actor, who stages and plays his own pieces.
I used to download his work from the internet and compared him with Armen Shekoyan, who also tells his life with various parallels in first person in the “Armenian Time” novel. They resemble each other as both tell what has previously remained undiscussed – about the Soviet Army, for example (see)
During HighFest International Theater Festival (www.highfest.am) on Yerevan stages from October 4th to 14th, Grishkovetz performed for two days — “A Fellow Who Has Eaten a Dog” that brought him fame nine years ago and “Simultaneously”; and I understood: no, those are not short stories, or they are short stories only in the second place, and in the first place they are performances, where the lines written black on white I read get life with Grishkovetz on stage, they become humorous and comic or stir a feeling of sadness.
In “A Fellow Who Has Eaten a Dog” he, telling about himself, tells us also about our childhood, how our parents used to wake us in the morning, the sweetest time to sleep, switching on the light and having us get out of the warm bed, and sending us in cold winters to the least loved place – to school. “I did not need to go to school; it was my parents who needed it.” The mathematics classroom is poisonously illuminated in a dark Siberian morning and he is afraid of going to school because he is convinced that the teacher hates him.
The Soviet school is replaced by the Soviet Army, where there are hateful officers to replace the hateful teacher. He is relegated to three years of difficult service in the navy on the Russian Island in the Far East. He has done some bad things in childhood: he sometimes used to keep the change from the shop instead of giving it back to the parents, he once stole a role, but are those things punished by service on a Russian island?
The performance differs from the original text, many of the episodes are new and other are missing. The play changes within the course of time: he replaced his mother in the text with his wife and children meeting him when he comes home drunk, and changes the Mathematics teacher with the one of Russian.
At the press conference the next day after the performance Grishkovetz explained he fits the performance to the environment, trying to play in a way to be comprehendible to all: “I am interested in telling a universal story,” the artist says, explaining why he adapts. “If I tell the Swiss how I used to go to school in Kemerovo, Siberia in winter when the temperature was minus 40 degrees (Celsius), with workers standing in the bus stop, and say that there was the smell of diesel fuel in the bus, for him that would be the same as to watch the Discovery channel. How to tell in a universal manner? ‘I was walking, it was cold’ (for a Swiss plus 4 is also cold), ‘the bus doors opened hissing, there was a specific smell in the bus (there is no smell of diesel fuel [in Switzerland]), I took a ticket and looked at its number- is it a lucky one or not? I rolled it up and began to turn it from side to side in my mouth, and did not want to go to school at all. The story I told is absolutely mine, but is not different from the life of a Swiss at all. I want to be comprehendible.”
Grishkovetz played “A Fellow Who Has Eaten a Dog” about 500 times between 1999 and 2004. He has been the only one to stage it in Russia. The play has been staged in Portuguese, German, in Ukrainian, played by a woman in Kiev, in French, by a black man in France.
The press conference was, like the performance, spiced up by humor: Grishkovetz, 40, has graduated from the School of Philology at the university in his native Kemerovo: “Thank God, it was impossible to get the profession of actor and director, and the only place to read books was the school of philology that had any connection with arts.” Grishkovetz used to have a small theater but he did not play himself, because he does not like his appearance, he has a lisp and was confident he was useless for the stage, but he left for Kaliningrad and was forced to play: “I had no actor, and I was the only actor, whom I could not pay. So I went on stage and became an actor.”
He is an author of five books, and his novel called “Asphalt” will be published next spring.
After the performance I thought Shekoyan’s novel is also a long-lasting play. Many of the chapters of the novel are more tasty and impressive when he tells them in cafes. Karen Mkhitaryan, the author of ‘Illness of Depression’ who was a teller before he became a writer, later used to tell the majority of the stories he wrote in cafes, frequently in different versions. He was given a program on AR TV for some period where he used to tell the stories, but then the program was closed. He now tells the stories before he writes them down, and there are so many stories he tells that he does not manage to turn all of them into written short stories, and other writers steal his unwritten stories and write them. Grishkovetz’s difference from Mkhitaryan and Shekoyan is that first of all he has managed to come to an idea of telling the story from the stage and making it a genre. Secondly, Russia gives person larger opportunity to express himself.