Love & Nihilism, Fathers & Sons

By Robin Goldberg, Production Dramaturg

Robin’s article was originally published in EmStage’s biweekly newsletter, which also includes extra behind-the-scenes photos and contests for free tickets. Want to get the jump on the inside scoop? Consider joining our list. 

In its most basic sense, nihilism is the philosophy that life has no real meaning. Our thoughts, beliefs, relationships, and possessions hold no true importance or weight, and actually detract from our potential to work for the greater good. Yevgeny Bazarov, the central character of Emerson Stage’s upcoming production of Fathers & Sons, identifies himself as a nihilist because he believes that Russia’s grand traditions and romantic heritage are meaningless when balanced against his country’s urgent need for economic and cultural reform. Even romantic love, Bazarov believes, should be discarded, lest it cloud the judgment of those working towards social change.

Bazarov’s views on love and romantic angst put him at odds with many people he encounters while traveling with his college friend, Arkady Kirsanov. Bazarov looks down on those like Pavel Petrovich, who allows a failed love affair to set the tone for a forlorn, lonely life, and even Arkady, whose pursuit of a female friend distracts him from his duties as a restrained, methodical nihilist. Bazarov sees the world in black and white, right and wrong – and refuses to accept that reason and emotion can exist in harmony. And there lies Bazarov’s central conflict: how can he, a passionless, idealistic nihilist who sees no value in love for its own sake, make sense of his feelings for the lovely and enigmatic Anna Odintsova?

The central theme of Fathers and Sons is the timeless push and pull of the generation gap. As the younger generation strives for change and modernization, the older generation holds tightly to tradition and a fondness for a world more familiar. To a young nihilist of the period, love existed as a relic of a time that was no longer culturally significant or relevant. For context: in the mid-1800s, Russia was perceived by the rest of Europe as being socially and culturally backwards; a once-great nation in decline (feudalism, a political and economic system that had been ended throughout Europe in previous centuries, was only abolished in Russia the year before Ivan Turgenev wrote Fathers and Sons.) To bring Russia into the future, nihilists believed that meaningless nostalgia and sentimentality for “the way things used to be,” only served to get in the way of progress. How could one hold onto unnecessary feelings when there was so much work to be done?

To lift Russia out of the dust, Bazarov felt, its people needed to place their gaze on the future and ignore any thoughts or feelings that could distract from necessary change. Love had no place in a revolution, so a true nihilist could not waste any time with silly, unproductive feelings. However, what was a progress-minded young man to do when he could no longer ignore his own human nature? Bazarov’s emotional struggle serves as a fascinating parallel for a country fighting itself for much-needed change and a desire for stability, as well as posing the question, is it really possible — or even desirable — to fight individual human nature in favor of the greater good? 

To form your own opinion, come see the show.

Costume Obsession

If you’re the kind of person who bases their Must See TV on “which shows have the best wardrobe” (All you Downton Abbey fans, don’t even pretend to look the other way)…well, you are in luck: Fathers & Sons, which is based on the classic novel by the same name, and will open on the Paramount Mainstage in a little over two weeks.

The place is Russia, and the year is 1859. For those of you who need a little historical brush-up, this is smack-dab-mid-Victorian era (which, due to Queen V’s overabundance of children and the span of the British Empire, had significantly greater impact on international culture & fashion than previous eras). Victoria’s rule spanned more than 60 years, during which, fashion changes were basically represented by ever-widening skirts and greater use of embellishments (both of which were used to indicate social status and wealth). Also: we’re in Russia, where they build things like this.

You guys. Do you realize what this means? It’s like costume porn. (Can I use that word on an educational blog?) (But really. It totally is.)

I was going to share some of costume designer Sarie Gessner’s renderings today, but then I went down to the costume shop to see if I could get some photos of the actual fabric, and guess what I found?


Why share renderings when you can look at the real thing?

Actually, this is why:


It blows my mind that just a few short months ago, costume designer Sarie Gessner and director Benny Sato Ambush started talking about the world of Fathers and Sons: who were these people? How did they present themselves to the world around them? How could they best use the costumes of the play to communicate a character’s personality and internal life to the audience?

With answers to those ideas in mind, Sarie sat down and sketched the dress above. And about 10 weeks later, we’ve got the real thing, ready to wear.


Katya-detail-sleeve---webNearly ready.

(Also: note that the trim on Katya’s sleeve, shown here, has been pinned into shape (and will, assumedly, be sewn down soon). And then extrapolate it to this:


…and this:

…and imagine how much work this single dress represents for our costume shop. And there are 13 characters in the play!

One of whom, we were lucky enough to catch in the act of getting fitted.

Blazko renderig


(Introducing: James Blazko as Pavel Petrovich Kirsanov. Sarie Gessner tying his cravat)

Just two weeks to go until you get to see the rest of them on the Paramount Mainstage! Performances at 8pm on Feb 6, 7 and 8, and 2pm on Feb 8 and 9. (Tickets at any Emerson box office, or here.)


Epilogue: Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy

As mentioned earlier in this online journal, the cast of Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy took a trip to Malaga Island, Maine, at the start of their rehearsal process — a way for the company to explore the setting of their show firsthand. The guides for that tour all attended last Saturday’s performance of Lizzie Bright, and today, guide Jim Tibensky sent director Robert Colby  a thank-you note, with a link to the below blog article (originally published here). We liked it so much, we wanted to share it with you. Enjoy!


Why CASKA and I Got Mentioned in the Program Notes of a Play in Boston OR Another of the unusual and wonderful places a kayak will take you

by Jim Tibensky

This September past I went to Maine, took the Maine Guide test, passed it, and planned a nice long kayak tour of Casco Bay. Eight times before I had done week-long kayak trips there, always as a guide for Omni Youth Services’ wilderness therapy program. This time I was going to do it with my friend Patty and no teens.



On what was supposed to be the first day of our trip, we were recruited to help lead a day trip of nine double kayaks. Alice, of Alice’s Awesome Adventures, the person who was hired to lead the trip, originally expected ten people. When the number increased to eighteen, she needed another guide. Two days after passing my exam, there I was.

The group that hired her was a theater troupe from Emerson College in Boston. They were putting on the play Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy. And therein lies the tale.

The play, based on a book of the same name, tells the story of a mixed-race girl, Lizzie Bright Griffin, and a white boy, Turner Buckminster III, who become friends. She lives on the island of Malaga in Maine and he lives in Phippsburg on the mainland directly across from Malaga. At the closest point, Malaga is one-tenth of a mile from the mainland. One could easily be heard when shouting to someone on the opposite shore.

I have stopped on Malaga to eat lunch every time I have been to Casco Bay. But I never knew its story. Thanks to Emerson College’s theater team, I learned it. They went to Malaga to see it – to walk on its soil, to sit on its rocks, to hear its sounds, to breathe its air, and to commune with the spirits of the people who once lived there.

Since the civil war, people lived on Malaga. There were probably never more than about fifty people there at any one time. They were independent of the mainland for the most part. They fished, they built homes, they had families, they took care of themselves. Some of them were African-American, some were white, many were mixed. No one on the mainland cared much about Malaga until rich people started putting vacation homes in Maine in the early 1900s. In 1912 the governor of Maine ordered the state police to evict everyone from Malaga, hoping that someone would buy the island and build a resort or vacation home there. The homes that were not removed before the eviction were burned down. The people who could not find another place to live were placed in the Maine Home for the Feeble-Minded for the rest of their lives. The cemetery was dug up with the bodies being re-buried at that same Home for the Feeble-Minded. The five children of the Griffin family were buried in one grave. This all really happened.

No one ever lived on Malaga again. No resort was ever built there. No rich New Yorker built a vacation retreat there. Today it is a beautiful, peaceful, empty, wooded, haunted island that is owned by the Maine Coast Heritage Trust. I won’t tell more. You can look it up at: (watch the three minute video)

My wife, Gail, and Patty and I all went to Boston to see the play. It was amazing. The actors talked about how much it meant to them to be able to paddle to Malaga and experience it. The actress who played Lizzie calls herself “an honorary Malagite.”

I’m telling this convoluted story, in part, to praise the benefits of kayaking. You get good exercise outdoors with some of the greatest people in the world in some really lovely places and, once in a while, you meet talented young people who, by going the extra mile themselves, take you along with them into a world you thought you knew, but didn’t. And you get your name, and CASKA’s, in a theater program in Boston.

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll…

This week, we’re focusing on a few local theater friends of ours, who have provided us with discounts to share with EmStage supporters. Today’s offer comes from Stoneham Theatre. Stoneham is offering a 25% discount off regular-price tickets for their production of Jeffrey Hatcher’s new adaptation of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

 JekyllPatchDR. JEKYLL & MR. HYDE

adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher
from the novella Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
directed by Caitlin Lowans

A new look at a horror classic – must close November 10!

Watch the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde trailer

Is there a good and evil side to everyone? And can we always tell the difference? In this new adaptation of the classic tale, Dr. Henry Jekyll undertakes experiments aimed at separating the best parts of his personality from the worst. When the result is the disastrous creation of his alter-ego, the savage Edward Hyde, Dr. Jekyll comes face-to-face with the very nature of good and evil. The San Francisco Chronicle calls Hatcher’s adaptation of this classic “a smart, tense, and suspenseful new take.” Don’t miss it!

To order tickets, call the Stoneham Theatre Box Office at 781-279-2200 or visit

Use code JH25 to save 25%


…and now, for something completely different.

As you probably have noticed, Boston has a pretty rich theater community — and over the next few days, we’ll be focusing on a few local companies: friends of ours who are offering ticket discounts for members of the Emerson community!

Watch this space today, tomorrow, and Thursday. If folks are fans (like the links on Facebook, or leave a note in the comments), perhaps we’ll make this a regular series!

And now, we’re pleased to present our first featured production, from Puppet Showplace Theatre:



The Orphan Circus”
by Les Sages Fous

Wed, Thurs & Fri, Nov 13, 14 & 15 at 7:30pm
32 Station Street, Brookline MA

Les Sages Fous are an award-winning company from Québec, Canada. Their celebrated “unusual” performance style combines puppetry, live acting, and ingenious production design.  “The Orphan Circus” is an awe-inspiring theatrical experience where two junk peddlers create a small circus of visual tableaux evoking the life of a cabaret troupe of derelicts and misfits — a place where the gruesome become the beauties and even impossible love can be fulfilled. Watch a short trailer about The Orphan Circus (NOTE: this link doesn’t include ticketing information)

“Imagine a close-up, dystopian Cirque du Soleil.” -Roxanna Myhrum, Artistic Director/Puppet Showplace.

“The Orphan Circus” is presented as part of the “Puppets at Night” series of evening puppetry performances for adults and teens at Puppet Showplace.


Special ticket offer for Emerson community: $10/ticket:
Use code 
EmersonNov2013 when you buy tickets online




See ya there!

Meet the Characters of Lizzie Bright

This morning, at 10am, we kicked off our first performance of Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy. And it was great.

With the official start of the run here, we felt like it was a good time to introduce you to the characters of Lizzie Bright – a few actors even drop by in videos to tell you a little about their character and their experience.

This material was produced as part of the Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy education guide, by our education coordinator Bee Weinberg. Check out other educational resources here.

Want to learn more? Join us at one of our performances this weekend!

The Characters of Phippsburg

Turner Buckminster

A young boy, Turner feels out of place after moving to Phippsburg with his father. Turner’s high strung nature makes it hard for him to make friends, until he meets Lizzie.

Watch an interview with the actor who plays Turner here: Turner Buckminster Interview

Reverend Buckminster

Turner’s father, and the new preacher for Phippsburg, Maine. Having recently lost his wife, Reverend Buckminster is struggling to build a relationship with his son while establishing himself in a small  town.

Mrs. Cobb

An old woman, Mrs. Cobb teaches Turner piano lessons. She refuses to cow to the pressures of the townspeople, and sees the potential in Turner and Lizzie.

Deacon Hurd

One of the leaders of Phippsburg, Deacon Hurd is heading the movement to clear Malaga of its inhabitants in order to build a resort in town. Thinks the people of Malaga are dirty, stupid, and should be removed.

Willis Hurd

Deacon Hurd’s son. About Turner’s age, Willis doesn’t like Turner’s “big city” attitude. He struggles to decide which side is the right side on the Malaga question.


Working with Deacon Hurd, is trying to clear Malaga of the families that live there so the town can build a resort. Shares similar feelings with Deacon Hurd.


The Characters of Malaga Island

Lizzie Bright Griffin

A young black girl, Lizzie has lived on Malaga her entire life. She isn’t sure what to think of Turner at first, but her bright spirit and feisty attitude soon spark a friendship with Turner and Mrs. Cobb. Lizzie is fighting to protect her home and family from being taken from Malaga

Watch an interview with the actress who plays Lizzie here: Lizzie Bright Interview

Reverend Griffin

Lizzie’s grandfather, Reverend Griffin is a black man and a spiritual leader on Malaga Island. Old and of somewhat failing health, he helps Turner learn understand Malaga and what it means to the families that live there.

The Tripps

One of the families that lives on the island, the Tripps are a wild bunch that Turner meets when he visits the island. If Malaga is cleared, the Tripps will have nowhere to go.