A Review of the Play Notes from Underground, Adapted from Fyodor Dostoevsky's Novel With the Same Name

Review # 1.

Notes from Underground

From a novel by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Adapted by Andrew Litzky, Bill Peters, Zo Inman,

Llysa Holland and Rachel Katz Carey

Cinema (Adelaide University), Fringe Hub

25th February 2004

Presented by Theatre Simple

Directed by Bill Peters

“Having too much consciousness is a disease!” the Underground Man declares, leaving the audience to contemplate what this means; is the mind of the Underground Man diseased? Is his speech the insane ramblings of a paranoid schizophrenic, or the commentary of an eccentric and often insecure social analyst? The audience encounters evidence in Notes from Underground to confirm both arguments, and ultimately, the choice is left to the individual and their perception of the character.

Notes from Underground is an angst-filled solo performance piece adapted from Fyodor Dostoevsky’s classic 19th century novel of the same name. Andrew Litzky portrays the misanthropic, self-loathing Underground Man, who craves, yet at the same time fears, intimacy and attention. The Underground Man is a confusing character because of his numerous contradictory convictions and emotions; he will talk of how he loathes himself, “I am a sick man, I’m an evil man”, and how he is nothing, “a mouse”, yet, paradoxically he feels that everyone is beneath him.

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Litzky depicts the complex Underground Man with the appropriate amount of anger and spite that causes him not only to retreat from the outside world and its inhabitants, but also to indirectly blame his retreat on society. He rants about the exaggerated and imagined slights that people have made against him, how he hates society’s conventions because they inspire rank and why, if civilised men are seemingly so gentle, “blood runs in rivers?”

Litzky’s performance is central to the play’s success; he gives the Underground Man a brain, a heart and a soul, when it would be so easy just to condemn and portray him as a lunatic.

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He makes the “intensely conscious” ‘mouse’, the Underground Man’s crude self-portrait, human again so the audience can relate to and, at some level, understand him. At the same time Litzky keeps the audience distanced because, over all, the Underground Man is a recluse, and his monologue is internal. Litzky, completely focused on his character, is able to act around the obvious presence of the audience, as if the Underground Man were completely alone. His monologue is for his own benefit, to sort out his cluttered and diseased’ consciousness; it is his constant personal psycho-analysis of his life, he is both the patient and therapist. The audience and related noises are simply in his imagination and we are the silent witnesses of this, an intriguing use of the audience-actor relationship.

The only emotional interactions the Underground Man has with other people involve anger, bitterness, revenge and humiliation. Director, Bill Peters has created a unique interpretation and environment in order for the unusual nature of the Underground Man to appear plausible. Litzky delivers his one hour, ten minute long monologue from a tiny performance space; his back is almost literally against a wall. The black stage is only a few feet long and wide and is scattered with seemingly ambiguous props. Simply dressed in dull, ageless attire, Litzky’s energetic and vitriolic performance contrasts with his neutral clothing and the darkness of the small stage, the size of which, makes his anger more evident and his threats more imposing. The small performance space is an appropriate choice for Notes from Underground, it symbolises the way the Underground Man is trapped by his innate sense of rejection, and also his misanthropic and agoraphobic existence.

The Underground Man’s many complexities are exposed through the direction of Bill Peters, as well as through the austere onstage furnishings and severe, bare lighting, revealing Litzky’s character in all his emotional and psychological nakedness. Alone on his sliver of stage, the Underground Man is examined by the audience as he shouts abuse to an indifferent world. The rich symbolism that Peters integrates into his creative choices, reflect on the Underground Man’s nature, and the audience is able to discern the almost Freudian connotations behind each decision. For example, the prostitute, Liza, one of the Underground Man’s numerous subjects of endless scrutiny, is symbolised by a bare light-bulb on a stand, which he turns on and off at any mention of her name. The light globe could be interpreted as a physical representation of several things; that Liza is the metaphoric light that the Underground Moth is drawn to; that as a prostitute, she can be turned on and off as easily as any light switch; that she is the only light of his life; or that everything else dulls in comparison to her shining presence. Another example of this is the house of cards that the Underground Man ardently builds and then furiously destroys, which is clearly suggestive of the fragile nature of his mental state and his relationships with others.

The overhead lighting was also effectively used to illustrate the Underground Man’s mental and emotional states. Some lines, like the opening “I have the underground in my soul”, were spoken in an entire blackout, which stressed the pessimistic bleakness of the Underground Man’s outlook and existence. The emotionally dampening lighting was supported by the sound-scape created for the Underground Man; however, the effectiveness of the echoing drips and dull thuds was unfortunately lost to the audience, drowned out by the external music from the Fringe Hub that filtered through the walls of the theatre. The upbeat accordion music that started and ended the monologue was heard clearly by all and contrasted dramatically with the Underground Man’s vitriolic nature, serving to plainly demonstrate how embittered he really is.

Notes from Underground is a probing piece of theatre that raises questions that are still relevant over 130 years after Dostoevsky’s book was first published. The timeless nature of the social analysis is especially interesting given the current global political situation. Even today we can ask; if “man loves to create, why then does he so ardently destroy?” Unfortunately, there are grains of bitter truth and fleeting insight in the Underground Man’s exaggerated and paranoid tirade, leaving the audience wondering if those we deny as insane are really the most lucid and perceptive individuals of the senseless world we currently exist in.

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A Review of the Play Notes from Underground, Adapted from Fyodor Dostoevsky's Novel With the Same Name. (2022, Apr 18). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/a-review-of-the-play-notes-from-underground-adapted-from-fyodor-dostoevsky-s-novel-with-the-same-name-essay

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