The Lower Depths

OKT / Vilnius City Theatre, Lithuania, 2011
Author: Maxim Gorky
Directed by Oskaras Koršunovas

about the production

Right from its first night at Moscow Art Theatre in 1902 Gorky‘s text The Lower Depths has been provoking people to various interpretations. While for Anton Pavlovich Chekhov Gorky’s pessimism and inconclusiveness were unacceptable, existentialist authors and playwrights of absurd theatre found a principal source of their inspiration in it. A superficial reading of Gorky’s plays can tempt people to social explanation in the first place. Although the social situation of his characters is an element important for building up the meaning, it is, by far, not the only one, not even the most paramount. In the play The Lower Depths Gorky analyses the existential situation of his characters (the play is entitled accordingly) in the context of an urban lodging house. He would not isolate the characters from their environment, quite the contrary; they are part of it, just as the environment is ingrown in them. The author studies the links, the reasons and consequences of their deeds or just their inability to act. The famous thesis that one can expect the moral awareness only in a man who is full, comes exactly from this play.

On the other hand, Koršunovas, in his play, is going for a different key. He evades the social aspect, or rather, finds it in the interpretation only in the following sequence. His primary interest is the starting point of his characters. In Gorky we come across characters such as “The Baron“ or  “The Actor“ for whom their previous social role was so important that they define themselves by it also in an environment where it is non-existent, or remains unfulfilled, because other participants of the social interaction do not recognise it. This initial reading enabled Koršunovas to perceive the text as an actors‘lab of a kind.

The actor’s role is defined as an opportunity and the actor is confronting the actor’s experience with this opportunity in   his work (research) which is going on the stage right in front of the viewer.  Although the explanation of this action sounds very abstract and academic, the result brings an immensely attractive theatre. The performance is conducted in a sober and contemplative atmosphere, the actors are placed close to the viewers, physically and mentally, the interaction with the audience is very subtle and the play puts very principal questions to the current theatricalised society. Throughout the play, though, the viewer is enjoying a theatre full of stories, relationships and tensions. We are witnesses of a Gorky’s play whose narrative we can re-tell and, despite that, feel that it is not only about our compassion, but rather, that it refers to the world outside the theatre and that it is leading us on a wide staircase to a cathartic fall. Nevertheless, it is taking place right in front of us and in cooperation with us, we are part of the actor’s creation which is asking questions about its options and limits and the fact whether it can grasp the complex score of Gorky’s text.  What it can achieve, however, is to mediate the feeling of insecurity and humbleness, face to face with great metaphysical and ontological existential questions, as well as an endless curiosity and seductiveness – a drive which is taking the actor’s (or any other) creative work to the limits of what is possible. Koršunovas and his actors have created a big, although chamber, theatre dealing with the possibilities of the theatre and the issue how the problems of an individual, or even a polis, can be solved in this ancient communicative form. It is exactly the chamber character of the play which is immensely important and typical for our age. Although it is a very calm, unassuming theatre, open and very pleasant for the viewer, it asks too many questions and brings too many signals. It is too disturbing for man to deal with on his own.
Ján Šimko

 "It should be noted that the majority of talented European directors have switched from the theatre of mise en scènes, which helped many of them to achieve creative success, to the theatre of “creating a life” (the most distinct example of this kind is Hungarian Árpád Schilling, who has ultimately rejected the conventional stage practice and has embarked on para-theatrical pursuits). Koršunovas certainly does not reject the stage itself, but his evolution has apparently turned to this particular direction: from the theatre of mise en scènes to the theatre of “creating a life”, from spectacular tricks to thoughtful minimalism. Interestingly enough, in the history of theatre not a single director who has taken a similar direction ever returned to the same point. It is a one-way street, and we have a suspicion that it is the right way."
Marina Davydova,

There are a lot of well-recognizable associations with the contemporary world in the performance, depressive moods, and self-mockery while juggling with the questions about the purpose of life. Some actors speak with the audience as if on behalf of themselves, “from heart to heart”, not hiding behind their characters. Others, whose function is to create a relaxing break, play distinctive character roles. However, while sitting in front of the actors on the other side of a long table, you feel as if you were in front of a mirror. Your fears, your self-defence, the lower depths of your despair…
Ridas Viskauskas, Literatūra ir menas


directed by Oskaras Koršunovas
set design: Dainius Liskevičius, Oskaras Koršunovas
costumes: Agne Kuzmickaite
music: Antanas Jasenka
characters and cast:  Satine: Dainius Gavenonis, Nastia: Rasa Samuolyte, Actor: Darius Gumauskas, Bubnov: Julius Zalakevicius, The Baron: Darius Meskauskas, Kletsch: Jonas Verseckas, Tartar: Tomas Zaibus, Aliosha: Giedrius Savickas,  Kvashnia: Nele Savicenko, Medvedev: Rytis Saladzius


Oskaras Koršunovas (1969), graduate of theatre direction at the Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre is, together with Nekrošius, Tuminas and Varnas, one of the most distinctive personalities of contemporary Lithuanian and European theatre. Following the years spent in the Academic Drama Theatre of Lithuania, he founded an independent theatre in 1999 – Oskaras Koršunovas Theatre or the “OKT”, a theatre with which he has put together a medley repertoire: Shopping and Fucking by Mark Ravenhill, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare, Fireface by Marius von Mayenburg, The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov, Oedipus the King by Sophocles and others. He presented his plays successfully at the festivals in Avignon, Edinburgh, Baltoscandal, euro-scene Leipzig and other festivals all over Europe (Divadelná Nitra 2000 – A Midsummer Night’s Dream). Oskaras Koršunovas belongs to the generation of directors who attract the attention of organizers of many international projects and initiatives. He has obtained a well-earned respect of international critics as well. He is a winner and laureate of several national prizes and many international festivals. His latest work The Lower Depths by Maxim Gorky has been selected as the best staged production of the year 2010.

Materials available

Script of the production: EN

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