Leo Tolstoy came to playwriting relatively late in his career, after he had completed his prose masterpieces Voyna i mir (1865-1869; War and Peace, 1886) and Anna Karenina (1875-1877; English translation, 1886) and at a time when his religious conversion prompted him to view his writing in moralistic, rather than artistic, terms. Hence, the works of this period are heavily didactic and lack much of the balance, scope, and humanity of this previous efforts. Nevertheless, The Power of Darkness is a potent realistic play, one of the most intense and moving dramas of the period, and perhaps the outstanding realistic play of the pre-Chekhovian Russian theater.
Although there was no direct influence, The Power of Darkness resembles the powerful naturalistic dramas that were, at that time, rejuvenating Western theater. As in a typical naturalistic play, The Power of Darkness shows a group of weak, ordinary people who, after committing petty crimes out of greed, sexual jealousy, and self-deception, find themselves caught up by forces they cannot understand or control, driven to further, greater crimes, and ultimately destroyed by the momentum of the evil they had so thoughtlessly unloosed. Small sins automatically lead to bigger ones; lesser crimes require more extreme deeds to maintain concealment; casual observers or passive accomplices are drawn into active conspiracy. Each evil deed, the participants believe, will be the last one and the one to lead them, finally, to happiness. Instead, the opposite is the case; they bind themselves tighter and tighter in a suffocating net of their own making.
Tolstoy’s chronicling of this disintegration is fascinating...
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