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Leo Nikolayevich Tolstoy

The Power of Darkness, or If a Claw is Caught, the Bird is lost

(Власть тьмы, или Коготок увяз, всей птичке пропасть)

Director Maša Pelko
Five-act drama
Opening May 2020


According to Pavel Basinky, the winner of the most prestigious Russian literary award for his excellent biography of count Leo Nikolayevich Tolstoy (1828-1910), a thinker, writer, politician and public figure, entitled Flight from Paradise (2010), Tolstoy is one of the most mythologized figures in Russian literature. At the age of eighty-two, Tolstoy suddenly left his wife Sofia Andreyevna with whom he had spent thirty-eight years and who gave birth to thirteen children, and gave up the life of a nobleman to spend the final seven days of his life at a small railway station of Astapovo, 300 kilometres from Moscow, where he died of pneumonia.
Tolstoy struggled to improve the lives of peasants and their children and was able to lend a sympathetic ear to deprived people. He designed his socio-moralistic doctrine, called Tolstoyanism which he strove to put in practice by way of simple rural life and labour. In the last three decades of his life, he was considered a moral and religious authority, and significantly influenced Gandhi with his doctrine of non-existence of evil.
Tolstoy was a master of realism and is considered one of the greatest world novelists, best known for his major novels War and Peace (1865-69) and Anna Karenina (1875-77), often hailed as best novels ever written.
He wrote the play The Power of Darkness, or If a Claw is Caught, the Bird is Lost in 1886, during the period when he was engaged in writing philosophical-religious texts, devoted to his idea, Tolstoyanism. In Russia, the play was banned until 1902. Nonetheless, it was staged several times prior the ban was officially lifted. Konstantin Sergeyevich Stanislawski, a famous Russian theatre director had wanted to stage it in 1895 and persuaded Tolstoy to rewrite act four along the lines he had suggested, but the production never materialised. He eventually staged it with his Moscow Art Theatre in 1902 and appeared in the role of the old servant Mitrich.
Nikita is a young and irresponsible farm labourer who likes women a lot. Having seduced and abandoned a young orphaned girl Marinka, he makes his master’s wife Anisya succumb to his charms. Helped by Nikita’s mother Matryona who would do anything for her son, Anisya murders her own husband Piotr to marry Nikita. When Nikita finds out about Anisya’s crime he feels nothing but disgust for her and seduces his stepdaughter Akoulina. When she gets pregnant and gives birth to a baby, Anisya coerces Nikita to commit a new criminal act.
The Power of Darkness is a disturbing depiction of poverty and lack of education in Russian peasantry and a horrifying and gripping portrayal of Russian society in the late 1890s. The play examines the topic of the power of evil in the life of an individual, enquiring how evil, committed by one person, grows and affects the lives of many. The tragic life of peasants is not the result of inherited evil, but of »the power of darkness« permeating their lives from birth to death.

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