The Village of Fools and Stanislavskij

Nicholas Rzhevsky, State University of New York at Stony Brook

In 1917 Stanislavskij and the Moscow Art Theater decided to stage Dostoevskij's Village of Stepanchikovo. After Turgenev's Month in the Country, the text served as the most crucial assay of Stanislavskij's research in acting technique. Rehearsals would explore the early form of the System, and they would provide an internal test through Stanislavskij's engagement with Colonel Rostanev. But Rostanev was the last new major role Stanislavskij was to attempt for a paying theater audience. After his encounter with Dostoevskij the System survived, but Stanislavskij as an actor did not. What went wrong?

Stanislavskij saw his mandate as one of making theater the equal of literature. His performance interpretation of The Village of Stepanchikovo refused to reduce Dostoevskij's literary complexities. As a result, the theater's reading moved between increasingly intricate levels of meaning including social criticism, metaliterary dimensions, and polemic (such as noted by Tynianov), and at the most complex the text's core issues of kenoticism, holy foolishness, and the self. This last moral-psychological challenge--of self-abandonment in the name of a higher truth providing ultimate self-fulfillment--came closest to Stanislavskij's experiments in acting method while creating unresolvable dilemmas for him.