Like all good Russian ideas, Reviews from Underground was born in the small hours over a bottle of vodka. The Lincoln Center was screening part I of Bondarchuk’s seminal War and Peace, and two old friends, newly arrived from Berlin, met me at the theater. Unfortunately, it was the part where Dolokhov climbs out on a fourth-floor window sill and downs a bottle of vodka, a party trick Max and Kirill felt compelled to imitate later that night.
Fortunately, I live in a basement.
As the vodka flowed and the room paled with smoke, I railed against the state of American theatre and theatre criticism while the two relived their glory days as co-editors of Warum Denn?, an idiosyncratic and barely legible arts journal mimeographed with the kind of blue ink once used for grammar tests in elementary schools. At some point, the two streams converged. Accounts differ as to when and how, but all agree it was Kirill who first howled through my basement window loud enough to set off a car alarm: “Reviews from Underground!”
Cricket, who had dated both men as an American student in Berlin, caught wind of the plan and proposed Playdate, a column where she drags Tinder dates to fringe plays and reviews both the guy and the play. For my part, I contacted Sebastian, an English critic who had reviewed my first New York production, and he graciously agreed to provide a much-needed moderating influence.
And so was born… what, exactly? Time will tell.
In theory, Reviews from Underground exists to identify and document short-lived but promising mutations that emerge onstage in spite of, or rather because of, the tremendous Darwinian pressures exerted by a profit-driven entertainment industry. In practice, it will likely digress into denunciations of said industry and the lifeless simulacra of its aspirants. Almost certainly, it will go wherever the minds of its writers take it—admittedly a risky proposition, given our diverse backgrounds.
But I think it’s a risk worth taking. For despite our differences, we all have two things in common: a hunger for meaning, and a belief in the power of art to make meaning.
And who better than the hungry to separate the wheat from the chaff?
June 29, 2019