Ai is a playwright who is drawing the most public attention these days with her
humorous satires and approach of creating steady dramatic effects through
dialog. The Golovlyov Family, which Nagai wrote the script for and will
direct, marks the second appearance of her work at the New National Theatre,
Tokyo, following the high-profile staging in 2001 of her play Konnichiwa Kaasan [Hello, Mother] that
vividly depicted a contemporary Japanese family. The upcoming production is
based on one of the great works of the Russian literary master Mikhail
Evgrafovich Saltykov-Shchedrin (1826-1889) , and this is the first time for
Nagai to take up the challenge of a translated novel.
Set in Russia
at the end of the 19th century, the play presents the tragic story
of the Golovlyovs, a landowning family that is in a state of collapse and
faces extinction, having lost its moral values and intellectual interests.
The author of the novel Shchedrin, considered Russia’s
greatest satirist, looked squarely at the real lives of people and described
them sincerity, so that even today his works are widely read in Russia.
The drama of the Golovlyov family, destined to die out, is depicted sharply
and straightforwardly within the broad current of the times marked by the
emancipation of the serfs.
Nagai says that she was horrified by the
desperate everyday fights over property between the greedy mother and her
children and the ugly image of human beings that this revealed, while at the
same time she rolled about in laughter over the incredible absurdity of this
struggle. She employs her outstanding story development skills to condense
episodes from the novel and manages to make a first-rate human comedy out of
a calamitous story. The drama of people who are seized with indescribable
fears as they face hopeless situations and only manage to go on living by
clinging to their desires is one that will also shed strong light on the
The Golovlyov estate is located two nights
carriage ride from Moscow. The
landowner Arina trembles with anger to hear the news that her eldest son is
returning home broke after squandering his fortune in Moscow.
Nothing remains that can be given to this eldest son. Her husband Vladimir
has virtually retired from active life. Arina’s two other sons
return home from the city where they live and a family meeting is held to
discuss how to treat the eldest son. They decide to provide the eldest son
with the father’s old clothes, leftover food from the family, and a small detached
room, which effectively amounts to his confinement. The second son Porfiri,
also known as Judas, observes these events with an uncanny smile. Every night
the eldest son breaks into the kitchen to search about for food ant drink vodka.
It is just a matter of time before he becomes an alcoholic. And on a cold