Bitter Fruits of the Fern

This afternoon, Naberezhnye Chelny’s Tatar theater came to Kamal’s small stage with their performance of Rawil Sabyr’s Bitter Fruits of the Fern, a play that treats some of the most difficult and some of the most frequently discussed topics in Russian and Tatar society– the Terror, World War 2, the Tatar Legion (Idel-Ural) — through the life story of one Nabibulla, an 86-year-old babai who finally opens up to a young journalist come from Kazan to investigate how this man managed to live so many years without being issued a passport.

Nabibulla argues that the state is essentially the root of our problems– in his lack of faith in all authorities, from the Stalinist regime with its promise of a Bright Future, to the Idel-Ural legion’s promise of national sovereignty, to the current state that still can’t withstand (or permit) the scrutiny of bright young journalists. The quite clear equation of the Stalinist and Nazi states, and the question of whether either provides something worth fighting for, is something that is already familiar to us, not least from Vasilii Grossman’s superb Life and Fate.

The babailar in the play are first presented essentially as the typical old men, jokers, with bad hearing and memory, that we know well from other Tatar plays. The critics locked on to the perhaps awkward juxtaposition of comedic and dramatic genres– but this is a conscious engagement of the Tatar tradition; the dramatist has decided to, as it were, problematize the carefree old man.

The collegium of critics, in its relatively private critique of the piece, called it somehow unoriginal– in that the basic topics were all treated at length in the critical period of reanalysis of the late 1980s and early 1990s. They also saw many weaknesses in the mis-en-scene and its conception of theatrical metaphor.

Абага алмасы ачы була, Равил Сабыр (Яр чаллы татар дәүләт драма театры)

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