Nimbus takes on Gorky's The Lower Depths

Gregory Yang, Taylor Van Denburgh, Brian O'Neal, Emily A. Grodzik, Tara Lucchino, Andrew Sass, Nicholas Nelson, Audrey Park, Karissa Lade, Adam King, Brian Hesser
Gregory Yang, Taylor Van Denburgh, Brian O'Neal, Emily A. Grodzik, Tara Lucchino, Andrew Sass, Nicholas Nelson, Audrey Park, Karissa Lade, Adam King, Brian Hesser
Photo by Mathieu Lindquist

You may have seen on the news lately that the United States isn't doing so well in terms of wealth inequality. According to some sources, we have the biggest inequality of the entire developed world, and The Economist says it hasn't been this bad since the 1920s. Worst yet, that inequality has all kinds of repercussions on health, education, jobs, and even life expectancy of those on the lower end of the spectrum.

It's fitting then that Nimbus Theater is presenting Maxim Gorky's The Lower Depths, first produced in 1902 by the Moscow Arts Theatre, about a group of society's castoffs living in a squalid boarding house.

Art Peden 
Art Peden 
Photo by Mathieu Lindquist

Many adaptations over the years have set the play in different time periods. Akira Kurosawa set it in the Edo era of Japan, for instance. There was an Indian version, Neecha Nagar (Lowly City), which won the Palm d'Or (then known as the Grand Prix) at the first Cannes Film Festival in 1946. Jean Renoir also made a famous version as well. Nimbus's version is set it in the United States. 

"The story is about what it means to be human," says director Josh Cragun. "Although the play has a Russian tone, it's not about life in Russia. It's about living in the lower depths." Rather than setting the play in Russia, "it becomes about the Russian-ness," Cragun says. "So doing it set in America, makes it less about Russian accents and samovars and more about the people themselves." 

The company has set the piece during the Great Depression, partly because modernizing it to today's world would make some of the gender interactions not work so well. One character, for example, is forced to marry a much older man for financial reasons. "In the '30s, it becomes much more of a forced choice than in the '70s, where foreseeably there were more options," Cragun says. 

The '30s was also an era where the slum was ubiquitous, as nearly one third of the country lived in a slum of some sort, whether it was in a Hooverville or a shantytown or a tenement. 

Part of the reason for choosing the play was that Nimbus has been trying to provide an alternative to the saccharine theater that comes in December, and has been doing so the past couple of years. They especially were drawn to Gorky's The Lower Depths because wealth inequality and how we treat the least fortunate has taken center stage in national conversations.

"What I love about The Lower Depths is that it doesn't preach," Cragun says. "It gives you a lot of angles about what it means to be human and what morality is, what pity means." 

Nicholas Nelson, Emily A. Grodzik, Gregory Yang
Nicholas Nelson, Emily A. Grodzik, Gregory Yang
Photo by Mathieu Lindquist

Like previous Nimbus productions, the adaptation was done as part of the rehearsal process. For the most part, they were faithful to the original text, using multiple sources to find the meaning, and updating the language. However, some of the smaller characters were eliminated, and the gender of a few others were changed. "One of the problems I have with doing plays out of the cannon is often they are so male heavy," Cragun says. "I wanted to achieve a closer level of gender equity in casting." 


Nimbus Theatre's The Lower Depths
Opens Saturday, December 7 and runs through December 22
7:30 p.m. Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 3 p.m. on Sundays
$10 Thursdays and Sundays; $15 Fridays and Saturdays; $18 opening night performance and gala
A special pay-what-you-can performance will be held on Monday, December 16.
Tickets are available by calling 612.548.1380 or visiting online.

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The Nimbus Theater

1517 Central Ave. NE
Minneapolis, MN 55413


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