My wife and I left the theater in awe tonight, saying to each other, “I can’t believe that was a high school play!” The couple we were with had the same reaction.
We had just watched Anastasia, a play based on an animated film of the same name from 1997. which was then made into a Broadway play about five years ago.
I knew nothing about the play, and nothing about the historical background on which it is loosely based.
Here is a blurb from the Broadway play’s website:
Anastasia transports us from the twilight of the Russian Empire to the euphoria of Paris in the 1920s, as a brave young woman sets out to discover the mystery of her past. Pursued by a ruthless Soviet officer determined to silence her, Anya enlists the aid of a dashing conman and a lovable ex-aristocrat. Together, they embark on an epic adventure to help her find home, love, and family.
I was so taken by the story that as soon as I got home, I had to read more about Anastasia.
Here is some of that background:
In 1918, the Russian Imperial Romanov family (Nicholas II of Russia, his wife Alexandra Feodorovna, and their five children: Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia, and Alexei) were shot and bayoneted to death by Bolshevik revolutionaries. (Wikipedia)
However, there were ersistent rumors of Anastasia’s possible escape that circulated after her death, fueled by the fact that the location of her burial was unknown during the decades of Communist rule. The abandoned mine serving as a mass grave near Yekaterinburg which held the acidified remains of the Tsar, his wife, and three of their daughters was revealed in 1991. These remains were put to rest at Peter and Paul Fortress in 1998. The bodies of Alexei Nikolaevich and the remaining daughter—either Anastasia or her older sister Maria—were discovered in 2007. Her purported survival has been conclusively disproven. Scientific analysis including DNA testing confirmed that the remains are those of the imperial family, showing that all four grand duchesses were killed in 1918.
Several women falsely claimed to have been Anastasia; the best-known impostor was Anna Anderson. Anderson’s body was cremated upon her death in 1984, but DNA testing in 1994 on available pieces of Anderson’s tissue and hair showed no relation to the Romanov family. (Wikipedia)
The play, and the movie, take a great deal of poetic license with the real story,
Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune gave the 1997 film three stars, calling the lead character “pretty and charming” but criticizing the film for a lack of historical accuracy.
Critical reception in Russia was also, for the most part, positive despite the artistic liberties that the film took with Russian history. Gemini Films, the Russian distributor of Anastasia, stressed the fact that the story was “not history”, but rather “a fairy tale set against the background of real Russian events” in the film’s Russian marketing campaign so that its Russian audience would not view Anastasia as a historical film. As a result, many Russians praised the film for its art and storytelling and saw it as not a piece of history but another Western import to be consumed and enjoyed.
After reading these historical background pieces, it made me realize how little I know about Russian history. I would have thought I would have heard of the execution of an entire royal family a little over 100 years ago, but I never have.
So it was a triple bonus evening: we saw a great play, I learned some Russian history, and we got to spend time with some old friends.
*Image from the New York Times