Myórtvyjye dúshi [Dead Souls]

Myórtvyjye dúshi
Director: Kirill Serebrennikov
Writer: Kirill Serebrennikov
Based on: Nikolai Gogol‘s novel
Cast: Odin Biron, Oleg Gushtshin, Ilya Kovrishnikh, Anton Kukushkin, Nikita Kukushkin, Andrey Poliakoy, Yevgeny Sangadshiev, Sergey Sosnovsky, Semyon Steinberg, Mikhail Troinik, Anton Vassilyev
Part of: Wiener Festwochen
Seen on: 20.5.2015

Tax official Chichikov comes to a small town in the middle of nowhere and he has a mission there: to acquire as many ‘dead souls’ for as little money as he possibly can. Dead souls are serfs that have died but their death has not been registered by the census yet, so their owners still pay taxes for them. It stands to reason that they would want to get rid of those souls. But why would Chichikov want them and why would he fight for them in increasingly absurd negotiations?

Dead Souls is a play full of pretty cool ideas, but unfortunately none of them really come to life and you’re settled with a play that is over two hours long and doesn’t have any breaks which ends up just being exhausting, nothing else.


I haven’t read Gogol’s original novel, but I can imagine that it’s pretty cool. The absurdity and the weird humor that was very present in the play is probably dialed up to 11 there. Even if it isn’t, you can at least take a break from it any time you like. The stage version unfortunately falls just short of actually being funny, except for some very select moments.

I liked the stage design though, with its equally stark and warm wooden panelling. It gave the entire setting a strange atmosphere, very much in tune with the absurd story and jokes.


The cast wasn’t bad either, though I was uncertain about the fact that it was all male. I knew that going in and I thought that watching the play would reveal the reason for that choice to me, but it never became clear. Without that clarification of intent, an all-male cast seems at turns archaic and a weak attempt at humor, since there’s always the suspicion that it was done for the “hilarity” of a man playing a woman.

It all culminated in a rather strong urge on my part to leave the play, but I stuck it out – I’m unsure why. In any case afterwards I was just tired and exhausted. Not the reaction I’m going for when I go to see a play.


Summarizing: Maybe with a break, but even then, I don’t think I would have liked it much better.

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