A Play by Evald Flisar
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Synopsis from Collected Plays, I (Texture Press, 2006)
In the early years of the twentieth century, Aleksei Ivanovich Mishkin arrives at a remote Siberian court inside the Arctic Circle. Determined to "fulfill himself by carrying out his professional duties," he is shocked to discover that there is no work. The court, together with the resident judges Rembrandt, Nijinski and Yessenin, has been cut off from the world by snow. The three older judges are trying to escape the horror of idleness by cultivating various hobbies: one paints, the other dances, the third writes poetry and "philosophizes about the meaning of life." They expect the new judge to adapt to the circumstances in a similar way.
He does not. For Mishkin, "the most important day isn't now, but tomorrow." He cannot accept things "simply gliding past," so he tries to force his leisurely colleagues to fake the circumstances in which their lives could have meaning. They, having gone through similar traumas of adaptation, resist his relentless campaign for "order" with a high degree of invention and humor. They know that life can be fun even if "things are allowed to be," and even if "our only direction is that of the wind."
The play can be seen as a metaphor for the unbearable void of existence in which there are no absolutes one can count on with certainty, and in which the parameters for meaningful action still have to be set. Each of the four judges grapples with the problem in his own way: Rembrandt by transcending the agony of eternal winter through painting a monotonous vision of spring, Yessenin by rationalizing the situation with reflection and poetry, and Nijinski by neurotic "running away on the spot," which is what his ill-coordinated "dancing" amounts to.
Mishkin, the new judge, reacts "politically:" he decides to attack the unbearable state of not-doing (just-being) head on. His attempt to "transform the present into a better tomorrow," is the driving force of the play. Its resolution, the softening of the conflict between two opposing views of reality into practicalities of coexistence, is the play's message.