Set in St. Petersburg in 1846, “Poor People” offers an episodic narrative,
intertwining symbolism, surrealism, and realism. The play tells the story of Makar Devushkin, a middle-aged clerk, who despite his poverty remains a human with an endearingly bumbling, optimistic outlook and humor. Makar’s existence is transformed when Varvara Dobroselova, a young seamstress and Makar’s distant relation, enters his life. The two develop a platonic relationship, which they use as a shield when forced to face unscrupulous relatives, unwelcomed sexual advances, contempt at work, sickness, and hard labor. “Poor People” celebrates the resilience of the human spirit when circumstances seem insurmountable.
The History of Poor People
Our creative team is proud to present Poor People, a stage adaptation of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s epistolary novel and first masterpiece, Poor Folk, as part of the New York International Fringe Festival 2015 (August 14th – August 30th) at The Kraine Theatre: 85 E 4th Street (Bowery & 2nd Avenue).
Poor People creators (director Irene Kapustina and award-winning playwright Lavinia Roberts) have worked on over six projects together, including: Eternal Flowers (The Players Theatre), Red Flowers in the Snow (Roy Arias), The Moment (Tada! Theatre), Cock Tales (Manhattan Repertory Theatre), and Eaten Voices (Dixon Place), but no project so intense as this adaptation of Poor Folk.
The idea for the play emerged from their passion for Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s writing, their love of the world and themes of Poor Folk, and their desire to blend devised physical theatre with music and scripted text.
Stage director Irene Kapustina picked up the novel, Poor Folk, while on vacation in Belarus. Irene was struck by how the world of Poor Folk mirrored the challenges of the working poor and the economic disparity in New York City today. Passionate about bringing the novel to the stage, Irene approached long time collaborator, writer Lavinia Roberts, about creating an adaptation. Lavinia appreciated Dostoyevsky’s strong humanist lens and the compassion he had for his characters. Both were aesthetically pulled to the visual image of having two characters live together on stage, in their own distinct, isolated worlds, yet connected through their love and their letters, the only space they could be vulnerable and intimate in a dehumanizing, indifferent and oppressive world. Thus Poor People began.
Irene and Lavinia painstakingly delved into the text and immersed themselves in the rich history surrounding Dostoyevsky’s life and the world of Poor People. Irene did extensive research into the life of the author Dostoyevsky. Lavinia concentrated on delving into just the world of Poor Folk, so as to not infuse themes from other of Dostoyevsky’s works and remain true to the world of the novel. Irene also did extensive dramaturgical research for Lavinia during the writing process.
Lavinia encountered a variety of challenges in adapting this work to the stage, but also a good deal of creative freedom. As the novel is an epistolary novel, the work did not naturally lend itself to live performance. Most of the text was not suitable for dialogue, even though brilliant prose. Lavinia had ample freedom to generate dialogue and create scenes inspired from the novel. Some important events in the novel were modified, put in anachronistically, or melded together in order to create a stronger dramatic structure, in this staged version. Lavinia greatly developed the characters of Makar’s land lady and Vavara’s family friend, Fedora, who were not well developed in the novel, but vital to the theatrical version, as they were the characters who shared space with the leading characters and could best discuss with them their lives and current predicaments. Lavinia was also drawn to these powerful, compelling, and older female characters. Although the adaptation is true to the characters and world of the play, various choices were made to translate the world to the stage and both Irene’s and Lavinia aesthetic and voice were infused in the creation of this staged piece. The devised movement scenes throughout the work reflect Irene’s love of devised physical theatre.
The director and writer met each week for over half a year, typically for an entire day, to read through what Lavinia had written and discuss the text, with various English translations and armed with Irene’s Russian copy.
After months of collaboration and dramaturgy, as well as the ROUGH DRAFT directing residency at the Drama League, both director and playwright are excited to fully realize this work as part of the New York International Fringe Festival 2015.