Late Love (Russian: Поздняя любовь/Pozdnyaya lyubov’), written in 1873 by the great Russian dramatist Alexander Ostrovsky, is a work of tragicomic genius and a classic Russian variation on the “well-made play." Rarely produced in Moscow and even less frequently seen in translation, it tells the story of Gerasim Porfir’ich Margaritov, a disgraced lawyer, and his daughter, a “not-terribly-young girl” named Lyudmila.
Years ago, Margaritov was a famed and wealthy Moscowlawyer until a clerk of his stole a document worth twenty-thousand rubles to a debtor. In the aftermath, his wife died of sorrow and he himself nearly hanged himself out of shame, changing his mind for the sole sake of his daughter. The two fled the city and rent a room in a rural poorhouse, owned by Felitsata Antonovna Shablova, where Margaritov has grown old and the flower of Lyudmila’s youth has wilted considerably. Nevertheless, she has fallen in love with Felitsata’s prodigal son, the lawyer Nikolai, and is prepared to do anything and everything in order to bail him out of disastrous debt and bring him home fromMoscow– including give away the most important deed entrusted to her by her father.
In Krymov’s staging, Shablova’s poorhouse is rendered with a lowered lighting grid, a floor of paint-splattered builder’s paper, and a mélange of broken and mismatched furniture. With the help of extensive costumes and outlandish makeup, the characters are played with extraordinary exaggeration, in a style of comic grotesque unique to Krymov’s work.
The first act opens with Shablova’s lament of her derelict son, staged as a “Russian folk wailing” (the incomprehensible text of which is projected on the walls). The scene transfers to a brief tableau of Shablova’s younger son, Dormedont, admitting his love for Lyudmila, followed by a scene between Margaritov and his only friend, the merchant Onufri Potapyich Dorodnov, as the former explains his lamentable story. The sorrow over the money is only made worse as Lyudmila responds to a letter from Nikolai with a hidden 50-ruble note, much to Shablova’s surprise and Dormedont’s dismay. Nikolai returns to find Lyudmila in love with him, and reluctantly accepts her affection in exchange for access to her father’s money – until Lebedkina comes to the house to have her fortune read by Shablova, and wins his affection with a sad widow’s cry for attention (and the aforementioned money, of which she is too in desperate need). Lyudmila runs into them as they leave to go for a ride, and is heartbroken at the proceedings.
The second act begins with an onerous fight between Lebedkina and Nikolai, mediated awkwardly by Shablova. The women exit, and Lyudmila enters to tend to Nikolai’s wounds. He tells her the story of his trials and travails inMoscow– with much embellishment, of course – and leaves to try to sort out his monetary affairs with Lebedkina. Upon meeting her, she not only deceives him with an empty cashbox, but beats him to a pulp and destroys the promissory note. Margaritov celebrates a good day of business with Dormedont, but discovers a missing page and finally realizes that Lyudmila has given the most vital of his papers – the deed – to Nikolai. He’s so mad and tired of repeating himself, he leaves his trusty boombox to scold her in his place.
In Ostrovsky’s play, the story comes to a happy ending: the note that Lebedkina chewed up turns out to be a copy, a feat of Nikolai’s cunning. Lebedkina settles her debts in cash, Nikolai is vindicated, and Lyudmila gets her man after all. However, in Krymov’s retelling the ending’s happiness somewhat… tempered.
Andrew Freeburg, 2015