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Crazy Money

July 27, 2020

The Maly Theater has been posting videos of entire plays to YouTube since at least 2014 (collected on this playlist), and about a month ago they published a 1978 televised version of Ostrovskii’s Crazy Money (Бешеные деньги, 1870):

The story is one of those late 1860s/1870s reactions to capitalist culture emerging after the end of serfdom. Lidiia and her mother are heavily in debt but refuse to give up their stylish Moscow lifestyle. The daughter is surrounded by suitors: several aristocrats whose main talent is putting on a show of not being penniless, and one up-and-coming “practical man” from the provinces, who is un-aristocratic even in his first name. Ostrovskii describes him like this: “Savva Gennadich Vasil’kov, provincial, about 35. He doesn’t fully reduce his unstressed Os and uses expressions belonging to residents of the middle Volga: ‘kogda zhe net’ instead of ‘da’ for ‘yes,’ ‘ni Bozhe moi’ in place of a negation, ‘shaber’ instead of ‘sosed’ for ‘neighbor.’ His provincial origins are noticeable in his clothes.” Lidiia holds her nose and marries the non-aristocrat, only to discover he wasn’t offering her the carefree life of luxury she was expecting. This, oddly, made the first two-thirds of the play remind me of the first two-thirds of the perestroika movie Intergirl (Интердевочка, 1989), where a woman also marries an older man from another social sphere, expecting riches, and is disappointed. In Ostrovskii, however, the mother helps the daughter as she (with shocking forthrightness) tries to exchange her youth and beauty for the best offer of economic security. Vasil’kov has some lines at the beginning that make his “love” for Lidiia seem like a reciprocally shocking attempt to buy a wife who is striking enough to be useful in his business meetings.

The acting let the script speak for itself. Nikita Podgornyi’s (1931–1982) Teliatev was my favorite—he came across as good-naturedly cynical and clear-sightedly tipsy. At first I thought the actress playing Lidiia could have played her in a more faux-naive way, instead of making her seem worldly and composed as if she were as old as her husband and suitors—Ostrovskii’s list of characters says she is exactly 24, while the men range from about 35 to about 60—but then I saw that Elina Bystritskaia (1928–2019) must have been 50, only 8 years younger than the actress playing her mother, Irina Likso (1920–2009), and it’s remarkable she made Lidiia seem as young as she did. I could imagine a different director taking a more exaggeratedly mocking attitude toward all the characters.

Crazy Money is the title used by the late Stephen Mulrine (1937–2020) in his translation of the play; besides Ostrovskii, he translated Pushkin and Chekhov and Venedikt Erofeev. I’ve also seen the title as Money to Burn, which is fine for the title in isolation, but “crazy” works better when Teliatev explains his philosophy of money in act 5, scene 3:

Telyatev. It certainly is [a pity]. Even the money’s smarter these days—it all goes to these business chaps, and not to the likes of us. Money was a bit dumber in the old days. And that’s just the sort of money you need.

Lidiya. What sort?

Telyatev. Crazy money. That’s the only sort I ever had, you can’t keep it in your pocket. Easy come, easy go. You know, it’s just dawned on me why our money was like that—it’s because we didn’t have to earn it ourselves. Now, money you get by your own labour, that’s smart money. That stays where it’s put. We try and attract it, but it won’t come. It says, “No, I know the kind of money you want, and I’m not coming near you.” And you can beg all you like, it won’t come. Which is a bit offensive, really, that it doesn’t want anything to do with us. (250)

Телятев. Еще как жаль-то! Теперь и деньги-то умней стали, все к деловым людям идут, а не к нам. А прежде деньги глупей были. Вот именно такие деньги вам и нужны.

Лидия. Какие?

Телятев. Бешеные. Вот и мне доставались все бешеные, никак их в кармане не удержишь. Знаете ли, я недавно догадался, отчего у нас с вами бешеные деньги? Оттого, что не мы сами их наживали. Деньги, нажитые трудом, — деньги умные. Они лежат смирно. Мы их маним к себе, а они нейдут; говорят: “Мы знаем, какие вам деньги нужны, мы к вам не пойдем”. И уж как их ни проси, не пойдут. Что обидно-то, знакомства с нами не хотят иметь. [This is Ostrovskii’s text, which Podgornyi delivers with superficial changes in the video, 2:07:48–2:08:34]

Based on this passage, I like Mulrine’s translation a lot—I translated these lines myself before I realized I had access to his version, and in that half-page he made a dozen choices that were better than mine and found a perfect voice for Teliatev.

Next I’m curious about the theater’s 2009 recording of Aleksei Tolstoi’s Tsar Ivan the Terrible (Царь Иван Грозный, originally called Смерть Иоанна Грозного, 1866).

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