The Lower Depths is Maxim Gorki’s best known play, widely considered both a masterpiece and an extremely problematic work. Subtitled Scenes from Russian Life, the play was a huge success from its first performance. The idea for the play was conceived in 1900, and it was written during the winter of 1901 and the spring of 1902. It was produced by the Moscow Arts Theatre on December 18, 1902. Konstantin Stanislavsky directed the play and starred in it as Sahtin, and as it was one of his earliest successes, it became a hallmark of his work, the Moscow Arts Theatre, and Russian socialist realism. The play is a portrait, without much overriding plot, of a destitute, lower-class group in a lodging house in Volga. Realistic depiction of this segment of Russian society was new and avant-garde at the turn of the century, in contrast to the age-old trend towards romanticizing the underclasses. Some critics at the time took issue with Gorki’s subject matter, and his pessimistic, unredemptive presentation of the lower depths. Others disliked the ambiguity of the moral message about the human condition, and the unconventional structure of conversation around this. Most agreed, however, that the play’s character sketches were powerful and moving, and the subject matter, at the very least, provocative. Debate over its chief theme, the merits of the ‘‘truth’’ versus the ‘‘consoling lie,’’ continues to engage audiences and scholars today, and it continues to be produced worldwide a century after its inception.