"The Journey of the Fifth Horse" by Ronald Ribman

Essay by califashmboyUniversity, Bachelor'sA, December 2006

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Just recently I watched the play "The Journey of the Fifth Horse" by Ronald Ribman based on Ivan Turgenev's Diary of a Superfluous Man. T first I was hesitant to watch the movie because of the fact that was in black and whit. I thought to my self that the play was going to be boring and really not that great, but I latter found out how wrong I was.

This black-and-white production takes us into 19th-century. It takes place in Petersburg, Russia where life was much different then. Dustin Hoffman plays the role of Zoditch, the self-important and self-loathing "first reader" at a publishing house. Hoffman is the neurasthenic "first reader" of a small publishing house in Petersburg, Russia. He speaks with a high-pitched voice which we would call annoying. His posture resembles a candy crane. His shoulders arched, head forward, and stomach protruding.

Zoditch is man who has no friends, no ability to relax, no one to love or anyone whom love him, and has no promise for the future.

The story begins to unravel when a housekeeper brings him the diary of Nicolai Chulkaturin. Zoditch at first rejects it but is ordered to read it at home. Chulkaturin a young man, who has just died of tuberculosis, emerges from the pages of the diary and soon reveals that he, too, believes himself to be the equivalent of a "fifth horse," a superfluous addition to the coach of life. While reading in his apartment, Zoditch becomes absorbed in the sadness and depression of Chulkaturin life, Zoditch realizes that his life parallels it in many ways.

Before sitting in his apartment, Zoditch is at the publishing company. Setting g director Charles Rosen used Zoditch's apartment and the publishing company as the two sets that are used primarily throughout the entire play. The first act showed both settings. Zoditch meets the housekeeper who brought him the diary of Nicolai Chulkaturin at the publishing company. Not much took place there, but is set up the story for us. Zoditch is then ordered to read the diary of Nicolai Chulkaturin by Mr. Pendaleveski when Miss Grubal walk in to the room. We then turn in to the second setting.

Zoditch apartment is where most of the play takes place. Here he read the diary and imagines what is taking place. As he reads the diary, Zoditch begins to talk to himself asking who, what, when, where and how. He begins to realize how similar his life is to Nicolai Chulkaturin life. There's not really any huge props in the apartment, beside the desk on which Zoditch sits at during the whole play, a small sink, a cabinet/stove, and his be. The small props helped the audience focus on the character and not be distracted by any other means. At first I thought Zoditch was a crazy schizophrenic because of the way the camera and the lights moved, but as I continue to watch I was mislead.

Lighting director Fred Manning had a task ahead of him. The light played a major role in telling his story. Lights have always been a central metaphor in the drama because the effects of light are deeply embedded in the human psyche. Page 193 At first I wasn't sure if light was going to play a role in the play because the film was in black and white, but even with black and white films, light can have a bigger impact then films in color. Each time the lights would dim or illuminated, I knew what the scene was going to be like. The light some how gave me a sense of awareness.

Each time Zoditch or Chulkaturin talked about someone, a light would shine over there head. Like in scene 2 the diary read that Chulkaturin was talking to Loyal Levanoghf. When Loyal Levanoghf appeared light focused on him. It them dimmed and focused on Chulkaturin, and then back. Another example of this was when Chulkaturin was reminiscing about Lisa, his long lost love. Also in Loyal Levanoghf

Sound wasn't really used much through out the play. Sound designers frequently involve a combination of live sounds and recorded sounds, as well as musical cues which can be live or recorded. Page 199 There were some scene were we live sounds of crickets in the background were an actor was alone. The sound of crickets made the scene more dramatic is use we know that if someone is alone we can hear the slight sound of bugs in the far distance. The sound of church bell was also use. These church bells may have been recorded at an earlier time because no church was in sight through out the whole play. With little props and little sound the actor needed to be convincing to the audience.

The actors had a major task through out the entire play. Since the play swings back and forth from Zoditch's present to the past of Chulkaturin, it takes a great deal of concentrations to not get themselves, or the audience confused in what's going on. The play makes good use of double casting, as Zoditch imagines people from his own life as characters in the diary. When actors play multiple roles, keeping them distinct is quite an accomplishment. As the action moves back and forth between the lives of Zoditch and Chulkaturin, the audience observes innumerable parallels between them. In many ways Chulkaturin is what Zoditch wishes he could be--tall, handsome, and in love. We see how the actor's responsibilities take place. They have keen observation, a good memory and concentration. They also have the ability to create and interrupt dramatic situations, and have a great sense of discipline. Page 133

The costume director John Boxer was particular through out the play. The costumes help the actor to define what could be called the psychology of the character. The costumes place a character in a time, place, or social status, or the costumes may be symbolic, rather that realistic. The costumes were to the precise in time. During the 19 century people wore Victorian frock coats, western shirts, Victorian waistcoats, trousers, top hats and walking sticks. Victorian fashion demanded that no gentleman be seen in public without a proper vest. The costumes also showed the social status as well. Zoditch, who was a middle class working man, wore the basic clothing. Zoditch wore shirt, tie, trousers and a coat. Chulkaturin on the other hand was a conservative. His wardrobe consisted of fine elegant clothing.

The women in the play wore costumes according to the era as well. Women of the 19th century wore these ankle length bloomers ideally under a riding skirt. The skirts were beautiful, long skirt with fancy silver buttons down the front. A great comparison of the two social classes was well demonstrated in act1. The house keeper who gave Zoditch the diary wore layers of clothing. She was in all black with a huge overcoat that was not as fashionable as Miss Grubal. She wore a cape like coat that was obviously much more expensive then the housekeepers blanket like over coat. With out the accurate wardrobe, the play may have not been as well orchestrated.

The play's message is somewhat difficult. Zoditch is regularly embarrassed and he is far from being blamed in these matters. You can look at this play and interrupt it many different ways. The one obvious meaning of the play was that we all experience the same difficulties in life, even though we all think differently. It took two different people from different parts of the world who had I identical lives. We all experience many things in life that we think only happens to us because we either have bad luck or we think that we just aren't to have certain things. This was an interesting play to watch because we see how the lives of two people experience events that connected as well as disconnected.

The second meaning of the play, I thought, was love. Love is something that we've all want to have, but some never have. There are many people that go on through life not loving anyone, or being loved by someone. We've all experience some one breaking our hearts. Are hearts can be broken because we fall in love expecting to be loved just as much if not more, but then we are rejected. Rejection can cause a man or women to become erratic and num just as Zoditch was.

I wasn't sure how the title applied to the play, until Loyal Levanoghf talked about the man who brought him to see Chulkaturin. He wasn't sure why the fifth horse was added if four horses were enough. Then Chulkaturin started to compare himself to the fifth horse as well. Chulkaturin tells a heart-crushing tale of unrequited love and a pointless existence. Both Zoditch and Chulkaturin seem to think immediately are revealed to be unnecessary men, as useless as a fifth horse hitched to coach that only needs four. Both men struggle futilely to find meaning to their lives, and both fail. The ending isn't a happy one, and Zoditch himself concludes the play by wailing about the unfairness of his own story.

As I mentioned in the opening of this paper, I thought that this play was going to be boring and not interesting at all. As I got more into the play I realized how wrong I was. I thought the play had much meaning it. I was impressed on how the actors were able to perform without confusing me throughout the whole lay. The dead man, Chulkaturin, tells a heart-crushing tale of unrequited love and a pointless existence. Both the writer and Zoditch, the reader, are ultimately revealed to be superfluous men, as useless as a fifth horse hitched to coach that only needs four. Both men struggle futilely to find meaning to their lives, and both fail. The ending isn't a happy one, and Zoditch himself concludes the play by wailing about the unfairness of his own story.