Yevtushenko, Yevgeni 1933–
Yevtushenko is a Russian poet known throughout the world for his superb dramatic readings of his own work. Although frequently critical of contemporary Soviet society, he remains essentially a regime poet. (See also CLC, Vols. 1, 3.)
J. M. Cohen
[Yevgeny Yevtushenko]writes about metaphysical overtones. The leading theme of his … sequence 'The Bratsk Station' is a dialogue between an Egyptian pyramid and this electrogenerating station in the Siberian tundra. The work Bratsk has a double meaning: it stands both for brotherhood and for the place. Yevtushenko's sequence hymns the Russian achievement and prophesies a spiritual future of vaster achievement, but not of faith; though his ideas are strictly Communist, his expression is individual…. This book contains Yevtushenko's best poetry till now: an individual restatement of a commonplace passionately accepted by his audience. It can and should be read in the West with suspension of disbelief, for it is fine poetry…. (p. 78)
J. M. Cohen, in The Spectator (© 1967 by The Spectator; reprinted by permission of The Spectator), July 21, 1967.
The actors in Yevgeny Yevtushenko's Under the Skin of the Statue of Liberty wait onstage for the audience to enter…. Sitting casually against the large metal backdrop, eighteen youths talk in undertones, chew gum, smoke and stare indifferently or defiantly at the people who are joining them in the hall.
Cramped and restless, the actors are very close to the audience, practically within reach of the first row of seats. This first row is reserved. The audience, settling into place, has the time and proximity to absorb details of set and costume on the shallow stage…. This is American Youth as the Moscow audience might expect it to be, but the actors would probably strike the American viewer as middle-aged and dated, belonging more to the Beat Generation than to today's counter-culture….
The main presence in the theatre is the metal backdrop, which replaces a curtain. All of the action of the performance takes place in front of this backdrop. Seamed together from sturdy sections of flat and corrugated metal, it creates a cold and urban setting. The last two words of a slogan, the WAR, painted in large, white English letters at the extreme left, leave to the imagination the beginning of the slogan and the extension of the metal curtain beyond the dimensions of the stage and theatre. (p. 138)
What we see and hear on stage is a series of enactments of political events or of events that are portrayed as central to the American Experience. (p. 139)
[Violence] alternates with less devastating skits. Some seem irrelevant, like a barker selling lottery tickets. Others strike the American viewer as on target, such as when a Gallup pollster, using the rope as a microphone, puts questions to Americans on the street who are handily portrayed by the four skulls….
When the students play themselves, Yevtushenko's treatment is sympathetic, and the youth movement is depicted as a helpless, desperate attempt to reclaim innocence. Dr. Spock, "wiser than us all," emerges as a hero because he knows that parents should be treated for the diseases of childhood.
In the blending of old and new Yevtushenko verse, the male actors imitate the delivery style of Yevtushenko himself, whose image is present onstage in the form of a poster announcing the American concert tour of "Yevtushenko and Friends." To the American spectator, the declamation of poetry makes the character onstage impossible to identify with. The American viewer becomes acutely aware that the actor before him is a Soviet youth in American blue-jeans.
The effect on the Soviet theatregoer is much different, and hard for an American to assess. The performance of poetry, a Soviet phenomenon, is central to the experience of Soviet youth…. Such performances have had an impact on Soviet youth culture that might be compared with that of rock festivals in America. Many lines of Yevtushenko poetry revived in
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