Must See Theater: Soviet-Era Adaptation ‘All Roads Lead to the Kurski Station’ Evokes Russia Then & Now
Photos by Ewa Kowalska
When one considers contemporary Russia – an aberrant mix of authoritarianism, capitalism and endemic corruption, reaching back to a late Cold War era book for adaptation seems perfectly timely. And such is the case with the visceral but almost hallucinatory new play All Roads Lead to the Kurski Station – loosely based on Venedikt Erofeev’s 1973 novel Moscow Circles (also published under the title Moscow to the End of the Line.)
Running until June 24 at NYC’s intimate East Village Playhouse, it is adapted and produced by Emil Varda, who grew up in Communist ruled Poland – but eventually wound up one of New York’s most successful restauranteurs, lording over such celeb-magnets/critics-favorites as The Waverly Inn and The Beatrice Inn.
The thought-provoking, metaphysical play (starring Elliot Morse, Rivers Duggan and Mia Vallet) follows Vienya, whom Varda describes as “a poet, a philosopher, a romantic, an outcast, and a drunk,” as he struggles with a crushing existential crisis. The narrative, unsurprisingly, is loaded with metaphor.
We asked him to elaborate on the plays themes, as well as its relevance to our current geo-political/philosophical reality.
You wrote a manifesto around the play, where you say… “Amidst the chaos of today’s spiritual crisis, it may be that paradoxical and macabre works such as Moscow Circles are the only way to approach the contemporary world and give the audience a metaphysical experience.” How so?
Our world is upside down and inside out right now. Nobody realizes this, or knows what is right or wrong, good or bad. We chase away even God or gods, so we have to take very special measures, an unorthodox path, looking for a new paradigm. Our president is a reality TV personality, who doesn’t understand fully what is going on in our planet, somebody who has no clue about Russia or China for example. We cannot use classical chivalrous and gentlemanly ways of communicating with this government or the rich and arrogant. We must start to scream about what is wrong and how to fix it as undiplomatically as they do; just be rude and without any good manners.
Tell us about Vienya.
I chose Vienya because, in my humble opinion he is the closest to that truth. He saw the cult of vodka as an effort to find meaning in a world that is growing more and more inhuman and farther and farther away. He found that vodka, revolutions, and even art were just temporary relief from the horror of existence.
The Kremlin is ominously referred to throughout the play. Why?
I’m going to answer this by a quote from the Marquis de Custine: “The Kremlin is undeniably the work of a superhuman but sinister creature. Glory in slavery – such is the allegory portrayed by this monstrous monument as extraordinary in architecture as the visions of St. John are in poetry. It is a dwelling appropriate for the characters of the Apocalypse.”
For our polarized, contemporary global culture, is there something you hope for us to take away from All Roads Lead to the Kurski Station?
Vienya is not just a character from Soviet Russia exclusively. He is a universal everyman, one of those among us who needs help and human kindness. Vienya is the last poet philosopher whose biggest tragedy was a fatal lack of love. His journey shows how determined he was trying to reach his goals and how painful that journey was. He ended up how he did because society and even God turned its back on him.