The surrealist ‘All Roads Lead to the Kurski Station’ is an anti-theater work that aspires to lofty aspirations but ultimately falls flat and seldom delivers
All Roads Lead to Kurski Station kicks off with quite the opener—our protagonist Vienya (Elliot Morse) walks through the audience, slowly removes his clothes once he’s on stage, and has two women give him a bath. He stands still, head down, butt-clenched tight. He seems stoic, almost patriarchal. But then, the stage cuts to black and we see the delirious fool that Vienya truly is as he spouts nonsense regarding art, religion, politics, and history. It’s a sentiment that soon drowns the audience in an elixir of drunkenness, which at first seems enlightening, and yet soon devolves into frustration and finally apathy. It’s an introduction that ironically mirrors the play’s inert trajectory.
Built on the foundation of the anti-theater origins of the downtown New York art scene of the ’70s and ’80s, All Roads Lead to the Kurski Station is a play that requires patience—a great deal of patience. Loosely (and I mean very loosely) adapted from Vienya Erofeev’s Moscow Circles, the play follows poet Vienya as he drinks his way around Soviet Moscow in an attempt to catch a train at Kurski station, the only place that will take him to his beloved in the distant suburb of Petushki. As Vienya meanders around and around (both physically and dialectically), he is harassed by two female entities (angels? demons?) who incessantly shout discouragements and ill-wishes. Perhaps they are protecting him from his own self-destruction. Maybe still, they are taunting and encouraging his staunch absurdist ways. In any case, it does not seem to matter. After all, this is postmodern theater. And if that tells us anything, it is that everything and nothing matters in the confines of this black box stage. And that’s precisely why the next two hours meant near to nothing.
While the thoughts are steeped in Brechtian tradition of engaging (or rather disengaging) the audience with introspective thought, they seldom perform the tasks of Epic Theatre. Instead, we are flung down a postmodern maze that attempts to shine a light on modernist aesthetic by becoming self-realized. It’s a frustrating affair, for at every moment the audience is made to believe that there will be an emotional respite of sorts, for us to gather ourselves and think about the actions on stage. Instead, we are led down Vienya’s bizarre dipsomania, going on more than needed nonsensical diatribes, ones that are accented by the bellows of the two haunting babushkas (played by Rivers Duggan and Mia Vallet). It becomes a dizzying affair, one that hardly delivers on the lofty ambitions set from the beginning.
Nonetheless, it is culturally and socially vital that plays like All Roads Lead to the Kurski Station continue to be made and showcased in black box theater spots like the newly created East Village Playhouse. Plays like this are a breath of fresh air for the once-decaying downtown theatre scene, showcasing that places like La Mama, Theater for the New City, Performance Space New York (formerly PS122), New York Theatre Workshop, Orpheum Theatre, and The Public Theater do and will continue to have relevancy in an increasingly consumerist neighborhood. Maybe I didn’t like it, but I certainly will support it.
All Roads Lead to the Kurski Station opened May 10 at the East Village Playhouse and will continue to run to June 24. Tickets are available here.