This is another fascinating play by Alma De Groen. The Woman in the Window bears a strong resemblance to The Rivers of China in its structure and themes but more obviously explores state-sanctioned repression of peoples and the need for creativity in a world where economics and wealth seem the only imperatives.
I love the way De Groen has woven together a biographical narrative with an invented futuristic one. The play is set in Leningrad in the early 1950s and in Australia, centuries into the future. Anna Akhmatova, the biographical figure in the play, was one of Russia’s most important poets. She stayed through Stalin’s purges, suffered the murder and imprisonment of all her loved ones and went through a period of virtual house arrest, where she was required to stand at her window twice a day so that the police could see she hadn’t left. Hence the play’s title. During this period she was banned from writing poetry and her home was regularly raided to make sure that she hadn’t been writing. To circumvent this, her friends memorised her poems and became living records of the work she was still creating.
One of her neighbours, Tusya, is sent to spy on her and sees Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard in her room. Akhmatova’s friend Lilli explains that she’s the one reading it.
LILLI: Anna Andreyevna doesn’t appreciate Chekhov.
AKHMATOVA: On the contrary … (picking up the book) if it weren’t for people like these, we wouldn’t be enjoying the sort of life we’re enjoying now. (She tosses the book aside)
LILLI: Generous to a fault.
AKHMATOVA: I need the clash of swords when I go to the theatre. Heroism! Spectacle! If I want timidity I can walk down the street.
In De Groen’s future world, people are controlled by corporations and “goggled in” to “ractives” where they spend their lives in simulated worlds. Rachel is trained to pleasure high level men, if she fails or her smile isn’t genuine, she’ll be moved down the food chain. She’s provided as entertainment for Sandor, a poet (except he doesn’t actually write, poets in these times are those people who are state sanctioned to read the archives and learn other people’s poetry), and they begin a relationship of sorts.
RACHEL: That poem – a world within me that’s asleep: Maren found that world. Look what happened. I feel things! How do I make sense of things? – who I am … whether this is all there is? – or is there some other kind of life …? whether if I banged my head against the side of my crib long enough I might think different thoughts!
SANDOR: What thoughts?
RACHEL: Different thoughts! If I knew I’d already be thinking them!
The world De Groen has envisaged is bleak but she leaves us with hope. While we can think and feel and create, there is always hope.
Publisher: Currency Press
Cast: 6F, 4M (can be doubled with 5F, 2M)