A Hundred Pounds of Love

Playwright Vadim Levanov died on December 25, 2011, in Tolyatti. He was only 44 years old. Yet at the time of his death, Levanov was already recognized not only as a master of the Tolyatti theatre school, but also as a man, who was responsible for creating the "new drama" phenomenon in Russia.

 

Already after his death somebody posted scenes from the Lyubimovka Festival on YouTube: a man with an extraordinarily noble face is agitatedly trying to convince young playwrights to write about what is in their hearts. Do not write about anything other than what you love, Levanov urges in a fragmented, spluttering manner, like a student in his first public performance.

He was everywhere and always a man from a different world. Everything about him was different: a Christ-like face, a lion's mane, a stately gait (that forbade anyone from thinking about his medical necessity to walk with a cane), a habit of looking straight into your eyes, his retention of unstressed 'o' sound... None of this suggested that Levanov due to his old-fashionedness or provincialism has somehow gotten the wrong street, or city, or era, however. Quite to the contrary, it brought out the urge to understand, to discover some deep-seated secret that Levanov was carefully trying to hide, starting every speech with his trademark tongue-in-cheek, "we, the Old Believers"... He really did come from a family of Old Believers. He treasured the old books that were passed down from generation to generation...

 

 

This is the key: this image of a man with a secret, which he guards with great care by some prior arrangement - with the heavens? with people? With his comely appearance, his sweet, touching, stumbling speech (virtually every one of Levanov's utterances was prefaced by his never-ending "you know"), he brought out a feeling of mysteriousness in his company, the kind of feeling that appears upon contact with a great human phenomenon. His primary quality was the beauty of resistance: to a wheelchair, to a physical ailment. He was handsome, strong and brave against all odds. The energy of overcoming bubbled over inside him. Given that, it seemed blasphemous to pity Levanov. Nevertheless, you always felt scared for him -- just as you would feel scared for poets, who are doomed to fly.

He was a poet, even though he wrote plays not poems. True poetry, after all, is the ability to speak beautifully about something ugly and tenderly about something frightening. This is Levanov's aesthetics. He elevated every story to the heavenly formula. He even managed to elevate his last play, which was constructed on a strictly prosaic material (the death of cows at an abandoned agricultural complex), to the level of a parable that propagated the word of the Old Testament. Every cow is precious in the eyes of the Lord. And what about us, people?

He never forgot about the books that were kept in his family library. Maybe that was his secret? His inner concentration on the great, the important Word never waned despite his absolute openness, his amazing sincerity, his readiness to share his experience. There were always people around him, like-minded individuals. He gathered them around him. He founded the Golosova-20 Theatre in Tolyatti, published a magazine, conducted workshops.... In his home town, people even created a saying about Levanov, "Nobody works here - everyone is writing plays." Nowadays, everyone knows the names of his students: Yuri Klavdiev, Mikhail and Vyacheslav Durnenkov...

He was famous not only in Tolyatti. Theatre-going Moscow knew him. Saint Petersburg knew him. Two of his plays - "Ksenia. A Love Story" and "Hamlet" - were playing at Saint Petersburg's Alexandrinsky Theatre in Fokin's production. I remember being amazed by his play about Ksenia, which was based on life material, the most difficult material for theatrical adaptation. In the play's finale Ksenia, a Holy Fool, who for the entire duration of the performance sat on a church porch, conversing with people from different eras, crosses the threshold of death, meets her husband and becomes an ordinary woman. She begins speaking in her own voice, simply, with no games and no affected feeble-mindedness.

Levanov was stubbornly holding to that principle his entire life. He lived as though he had taken a vow: to speak in his own voice the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about life.

People, who refuse to lie, burn out quickly. And that was how he left this world -- suddenly, with lightning speed. Over the summer the doctors diagnosed him with bladder cancer, he died in the winter of that same year. The treatment in Israel, the money collected by his friends, and the prayers, for which he had such hopes - in the end, none of it was enough...

It was only later that I found out what his secret was. I found out that in his youth he had tried to commit suicide because of an unhappy love affair and was left handicapped for life as a result. Afterwards, life granted him another quarter of a century. And he had never forgotten about that gift. One of his plays is, in fact, called "A Hundred Pounds of Love."

Vadim Levanov (1967-2011) — Russian playwright, director. Graduated from the A.M. Gorky Literary Institute. 2001-2007, artistic director of the Golosova-20 Theatre Centre (Tolyatti). Regular participant of the "New Drama" Festival. Author of over thirty plays ("The Closet", "Gorky Park", "The Inventor of a Sewing Machine", "Onetwothree", "The Fly", "A Hundred Pounds of Love", "The Dreams of Tolyatti", and many others), as well as movie scripts, stories and essays. His plays were staged in Moscow, Tolyatti, Nancy (France), Yekaterinburg, Elista, Lipetsk, Saratov, Klaipeda (Lithuania), Khanty-Mansiysk, Giessen (Germany) and other cities.   

 

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