A Somber Theater

The Love-Girl and the Innocent

by Alexander Solzhenitsyn, translated by Nicholas Bethell, translated by David Burg
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 131 pp., $4.95

Five Plays of Alexander Ostrovsky

translated and edited by Eugene K. Bristow
Pegasus, 480 pp., $7.50

The Trilogy of Alexander Sukhovo-Kobylin

translated by Harold B. Segel
Dutton, 265 pp., $6.95

The Complete Plays of Vladimir Mayakovsky

translated by Guy Daniels
Washington Square Press, 274 pp., $6.95

The Blind Beauty

by Boris Pasternak, translated by Manya Harari, translated by Max Hayward
Harcourt, Brace & World, 128 pp., $3.95

Meyerhold on Theatre

translated and edited by Edward Braun
Hill & Wang, 336 pp., $8.50

Notes of a Director

by Alexander Tairov, translated by William Kuhlke
University of Miami, 153 pp., $6.50

Solzhenitsyn, unquestionably the greatest living Russian writer, is proscribed in his own land. Since One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich was published by sanction of Khrushchev, his work, except for a few stories that followed immediately, has been smuggled out. This was true of his big novels, The First Circle and The Cancer Ward, and it has now happened to his play, The Love-Girl and the Innocent, which was banned after it had been accepted for staging in 1962. It has been done into English by the able translators of The Cancer Ward.

The setting is that of One Day, a Stalinist slave-labor camp, but the main characters are more like the political prisoners of The First Circle, and the tone is, as always, icy and bitter. For here, as elsewhere, Solzhenitsyn writes with clenched teeth and a grim sneer about life in “Campland,” as one inmate calls it, “an invisible country…not in the geography books, or the psychology books, or the history books,” a famous country, with its own laws, where “ninety-nine men weep while one man laughs” and each newcomer must decide for himself whether to join the majority or the minority. The one who laughs has vodka, women, and good food. The ninety-nine freeze, starve, and die of exhaustion or disease. “No honest man lives to see the end of his sentence”; to survive a man must cheat and toady, a woman sleep with any guard who wants her.

Rodion Nemov, “the innocent,” recently an officer in the front line, refuses to submit, and voices complaints about conditions of work and the treatment of prisoners. He is demoted from a supervisor’s job to hard labor and at the end is felled by the “medieval” mechanism he has objected to and has then been forced to operate, while the unfortunate, gifted girl whom he has come to love and whom he might have saved from the life of promiscuity to which she has been subjected since her fourteenth year, sees no way out but to knock, finally, at the door of the repulsive camp doctor who desires her. Her name is Lyuba, which means “love,” and she is known in camp as a “love-girl.” Love, along with all the qualities and virtues that men have ever prized—honesty, justice, decency, tenderness, intelligence—is debased in a land of slaves and tyrants, where a just man is hounded as an “enemy of the people” and ordinary crooks are respected and honored.

This is the theme, presented in the stark realism not of the photographer’s record but of the subject’s experience. Solzhenitsyn writes of what he himself has endured. He is both martyr and witness to martyrdom. And he has found a way of involving the audience relentlessly in the horror he has known by transforming the theater itself into his prison camp. According to his stage directions:

The audience will walk from a brightly lit foyer into the darkened auditorium. In here the only light comes from…

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