Two famed, familiar Russian plays were last week noteworthily revived in Manhattan:
At the Bottom is a new translation by William L. Laurence, Russian:born U. S. newsman (New York World) of Maxim Gorki's Na Due (usually called The Lower Depths). Directed by Leo Bulgakov, persistent exponent of Russian drama in the U. S., onetime member of the Moscow Art Theatre, it is the first Manhattan production of the play since the Moscow company visited the city five years ago. Despite the fact that Mr. Laurence's version employs such U. S. colloquialisms as ''bunk . . . all wet . . . caught with his pants down," it preserves the strange compound of squalor and beauty with which the original depicts a sorry crowd of derelicts living in an unspeakable Moscow basement and, like tatterdemalion philosophers, pondering their own destiny and that of the race. In an almost formless succession, each of these is scrutinized by the playwright who strips away the surface tissue and exposes the quivering core of passion, perplexity or faith.
Maxim Gorki (Alexey Maximovich Peshkov), 62, son of an upholsterer, long-time associate of social pariahs, wrote ATa Due in 1903 when his short stories had already made him a world figure and his literary friend Anton Chekhov (see p. 64 and below) had challenged him to write a good play. He is the only great prerevolutionary Russian man-of-letters who enjoys the cordiality of Soviet authorities. His latest novels are infused with Soviet doctrine. For his health, he spends the winters in Italy. He once shocked his hosts in the U. S. when it was discovered that he had never been married to the lady who accompanied him as Madame Gorki.
The Three Sisters by Anton Chekhov has been seen in Manhattan as recently as 1928, at the Civic Repertory Theatre" It is now presented by the American Laboratory Theatre, small, highbrow, student-subscription organization, and serves to introduce its new directress Maria Germanova, late of the Moscow Art Theatre. Perhaps the greatest exposition of the horrors of ennui, it introduces three daughters of a deceased Russian army officer who are compelled to remain in a slumbrous provincial town when they long for the bright Moscow of their imagination. Irina slowly shrivels a's she teaches school. Olga's devoted but unprepossessing lover is killed in a duel just after she has finally agreed to marry him. Masha's adulterous transports with a visiting lieutenant-colonel are ended when the regiment marches away. Maria Germanova plays Mashaa big, dark woman who laughs hysterically as her desires mount above her repressions and who whimpers like a wounded animal when her lover departs. Chekhov's humans are like impatient beasts of burden who see vaguely beyond their beastliness. Each is forever at odds with a sorrowful, unyielding desperation.