from the novella by Daniil Kharms
Performed at St Paul's Lutheran Church of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY
April, October 2017
Because Kharms has few readers here. Indeed, his readers in Russia are not many, given he has been in print there only since the late Soviet period. And yet, “The Old Woman” is unbelievably relevant to us. All its characters are constantly trying to do something, but never succeed. The writer cannot write, the wizard can do no wizardry, the Old Woman’s appearance is never justified. She doesn’t even manage to die. The encounter with the Young Lady doesn’t go anywhere. Sakerdon Mikhailovich sits at home in idleness. The train conductor next door doesn’t make it past morning tea. And Maria Vasilievna never leaves her communal flat. It’s a vicious cycle, and there’s no way out.
What happens is Kharms’s manner of storytelling itself. Though he begins in the phenomenal world, he takes us deep into mysticism. This production of “The Old Woman” aims to do the same, transitioning from realism into the language of the absurd, clowning, pantomime. The wizard was tall. Possibly in white garments. Barn. Vodka. Moulded bread. Whatever’s cheapest. Tram, cobblestone, roadway. The body of the Old Woman in the suitcase which must be thrown in the swamp. That’s not your nose to throw off the bridge. Clocks without hands, children catching tetanus. An escape attempt, at least from one room to another. So the neighbours don’t notice. Calm. The dead are a badly behaved bunch. The wizard does no wizardry his whole life, and dies. You understand, Sakerdon Mikhailovich, this is a lady of a different sort. Invite her to lunch, get married. Curse it. At least jump onto a tram, and not out the window. Where’s the toilet?
- Vyacheslav Komarnitsky