December 13, 2008

The Lower Depths (1902 play)

Written by Maxim Gorky.

The Setup:

A locksmith with a dying wife. An alcoholic actor. A prostitute who dreams of romance. A vendor with the hots for a policeman. A baron stripped of his fortunes. A pair of middle eastern brothers. A cap-maker. A shoe-maker. A tramp just passing through. A thief in the midst of an affair with his landlord's wife, even though his heart is dedicated to the woman's sister.

This random gaggle of people have formed an odd family of sorts as they all share the cramped basement room of a boardinghouse.

The Good:

- There's a surprising naturalism to the piece, as Gorky uses the character of the arriving tramp to allow the others to freshly establish themselves while continuing with their daily routines. And the characters are fleshed out to a degree where their backstory is less important to understanding who they are than the beliefs, desires, and actions of their present.

- Instead of a central plot, Gorky instead gives us a "day in the life" piece that focuses on the basic struggle these characters find themselves in. Sure, there are some major happenings, some characters are lost while others arrive, and the dynamics within the house are severely shaken up, but it ends much as it begins, with these people continuing to live their lives in a social situation that steadfastly refuses to alter.

- I love the ambiguity of the theme. Is he trying to show how hope or perseverance can cause people to rise out of their humble shortcomings? Is he trying to show how a person's dreams are entirely dependent upon the life and class which they find themselves in? It never gives us a clear answer, wavering from one possibility to the next, repeatedly disproving its own theses, and eventually leaving everything in the air for the audience to decide. Which feels real.

- The ending is twisted. Gloriously twisted.

The Bad:

- Can't think of anything.

In Conclusion:

Biting, blunt, and thought-provoking, this is a marvelous work of drama that shows the bonds and tensions that can grown when a group of people are forced to share their lives with one another.

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