I was about 19 years old when I first heard about Nikolai Gogol. A young Biology undergraduate with very little direction in life other than a healthy appetite for learning, I enrolled in a course called “International Short Story” at Binghamton University.
The professor was an eccentric man with a penchant for innuendo, and I was immediately onboard his comedy train. There was no ‘Rate My Professor’ back then, and I can’t remember his name, but he left quite an impression on me. It was in his course that I discovered writers like Chinua Achebe, Marie de France, Giovanni Boccaccio, and of course, Gogol himself.
I’m not sure what it was about the surreal and hysterical stories that grabbed me. Was it his sardonic take on Empire? The skewering of self-centered people who otherwise consider themselves pious Christians? Maybe it was just the connection I felt to my own Orthodox Christian upbringing and Ukrainian heritage? Nobody nose…
The Nose! That was it!
The Nose. Gogol’s roller-coaster ride of a farce chronicling the sad pursuit of Collegiate Assessor Kovalyov and his desperate attempts to regain his own nose–which had disappeared earlier that morning– who wore much nicer clothes.
I had never read anything like it! Surreal, dark, and it made me laugh out loud. It was a far cry from other comedies I had come across until that point. This was no Neil Simon! I was hooked.
Luckily, course requirements stated I had to buy his collection of short stories (thanks student loans!) I read them all, including the most famous such as “Diary of a Madman” and “The Overcoat.”
But The Nose! THE NOSE!
Cut to: Grad school at The American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco (thanks student, loans!). From Toronto, Morris Panych and Wendy Gorling’s ‘The Overcoat’ was a site to be seen! Then, just a year or two later, Carey Perloff’s production of The Government Inspector. Not only did I get to work on a workshop of that production, but I got to see Gogol’s work right up close at one of America’s premiere stages!
Cut to: Summer 2015, and we’re planning our very first season. What to do during Christmas? Everyone already does A Christmas Carol. A Christmas Story, while a ‘classic’ film, might be too much of a stretch, and The SantaLand Diaries couldn’t accommodate our company of actors… what could we do? Something we could make our own… Something unique…
Then I discovered that Gogol had written a story called ‘The Night Before Christmas.’
After many months of development, Amy Canfield (literary manager and director of this production) and I are thrilled to present to Rochester this irreverent and hilarious Winter’s tale full of booze, boobs, and magical shenanigans.
But here’s the thing about Gogol: Even while he expertly skewers small-town life and big-city pretensions, even as he pokes fun at his own faith and the hypocrisy of others, there’s an immutable kernel of humanity in all his works. This expression is a central reason Gogol’s works aren’t just silly comedies, but instead truly timeless works of art.
We’re proud to say The Devil, the Witch, and the Blacksmith is no exception. We know you will enjoy this ‘New Classic’ as much as we do, and aim for it to become part of the Rochester theater tradition for years to come.
On behalf of our entire company… Happy Holidays!