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2017 †N11-12(152-153)
"My Little Poplar in a Red Headscarf" again reaps the Ashgabat residents' applause. This story won their hearts back in 1965 when it was staged at the then Mollanepes Turkmen Academic Drama Theater. The new staging of this remarkable story at the Alp Arslan National Drama Theater commemorates famous writer Chingiz Aitmatov as well as Orazmuhammed Khadzhimuradov, the director of that play, Honored Artist of Turkmenistan, winner of the Magtymguly State Prize.
Selfishness, self-confidence lead to fatal consequences: a person remains alone, having broken with those who live and work by his side, devoted and dear to him. This is the leading theme of the play. The plot of this story is well-known to those who read Aitmatov's early works. A driver named Ilyas works as a cargo truck driver in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan. Once, his truck malfunctioned. While repairing it, he saw a girl with a red headscarf on her head and a bucket in her hand. He asked for water. Little by little, they began to talk and liked each other. They started to date furtively and married soon after. Asel left her home. Ilyas invented a name for his beloved wife, calling her "my little poplar in a red headscarf". They lived in a dwelling provided by the garage service. He continued shipping cargo with his truck, while she ran a house and raised a son named Samat. It seemed they lived a happy life! But...
That year's winter was bitter. The roads were covered with snow and no truck could move. The drivers waited out bad weather in the warm. Suddenly, the head of the garage said there was a cargo that had to be delivered urgently to the distant village. The drivers were outraged at this news, as nobody wanted to move out in the storm. Only Ilyas volunteered to help and informed his chief about it. In response, he heard a categorical "no". Ilyas, however, showed obstinacy and, when everyone had left, he began to beg the stern chief to let him go. The driver wanted to show his muscle, stand out against the background of his colleagues. Ilyas's false sense of superiority over all members of the team was organically expressed by actor Suleiman Eminov. For the sake of his own ambitions, he persuades dispatcher Hadicha to violate instructions. The girl, secretly in love with Ilyas, yielded to her feelings and issued a waybill. Ilyas, taking the desired paper from her hands, triumphs in his soul: "I will show who I am, and you are paltry cowards!"
The truck's engine failed in one of the passes. The truck hovered over a chasm, as Ilyas lost control over the truck, and it rolled along with the trailer to the chasm. Ilyas barely managed to escape. Depressed by the collapse of his own risky venture, he plodded back. How should he continue living? How should he look in the eyes of his managers? Everything mixed up in his head, and hatred of others blinded him. When Asel suggested that he admit to his guilt, Ilyas's anger breaks out and he raises his hand against his wife. Asel could not tolerate such humiliation, took her son and left Ilyas.
The role of Asel - gentle, affectionate, charming - was played by Gyulaym Annamengliyeva. The actress played Asel with diligence and care, trying to convey the gradual spiritual awakening of the character. She obviously turned into a strong-minded person. She loved her husband and mistook all his faults for his desire to be extraordinary. In the end, the scales fell from her eyes and everything collapsed when Ilyas hit her. The main character of the story never defeated his pride and neglected the advice of the person dearest to him.
The play director, Honored Artist of Turkmenistan Handurdy Berdiyev pays special attention to the theme of love in his new production. It stands out through the whole story: Asel's love for her husband and child, Hadicha's love for Ilyas, the love of Asel's mother and her suffering because of her daughter's sufferings. The actors play their characters finely, strikingly and thoughtfully. Ilyas's chief, strict but at the same time caring, played by Honored Artist of Turkmenistan Ovezgeldy Khudayguliyev feels responsible for the fate of his subordinates and empathizes with them. The deep, piercingly truthful image of the mother of the main character was embodied on the theater stage by Honored Artist of Turkmenistan Mamagul Durdiyeva. She is both a loving mother, ready to fight her son-in-law for the fate and happiness of her daughter and grandson, and an ordinary rural toiler. In the scene of the conflict with Ilyas, the old woman, who is unable to restrain herself, throws a bucket at her son-in-law. This detail shows us the full measure of her indignation with a man consumed with self-love and selfishness.
The role of Baydemir is played by Honored Artist of Turkmenistan Akmurat Archikov. His character was a front-line soldier in the past. The fate of Baydemir was tragic: his whole family was killed by the landslide that came down suddenly from the mountains. However, he did not become embittered, callous and indifferent to the woes of other people. He happened to play an important role in the fate of the main characters. He helped Ilyas, who got into an accident, gave shelter to Asel and her son, who became attached to Baydemir and started calling him father. Ilyas tries to destroy the new way of life of his wife and son. His attempt to take Samat away did not anger Baydemir, he let the main character decide. She gives her ex-husband a nasty look and silently walks into another room, letting him know that he has no family.
Hadicha leaves Ilyas soon after. Her role was genuinely and truthfully played by actress Ogulsenem Durdiyeva. She suddenly gets an insight. She finally understood that she lived with a self-centered and selfish person who was unable to bear responsibility for people dearest to him.
A time of tardy repentance comes for Ilyas. He ties up a triangle of crimson cloth to a roadside poplar. This is the same scarf that Asel wore when they met for the first time. At the end of the play, Ilyas looks lost and lonely, and his confession to the audience is deep and sincere. The play director used an unconventional trick to present the most complete picture of the complex and inconsistent nature of the main character. He uses two different actors for the same role. If young Ilyas is played by Suleiman Eminov, the matured character that experienced an uneasy evolution of feelings and emotions is played convincingly and impressively by Honored Artist of Turkmenistan Dovlet Khanmamedov.
...Taking his not very heavy suitcase, a still handsome and strong man is going somewhere far away. And the line that was not voiced aloud "and will he be happy - that is the question?" rushes after him in the finale of the play.
An interesting work by the production designer, Honored Artist of Turkmenistan Batyr Bekmyradov provided a wonderful background that in many ways helped to convey the leading theme of the play and the characters. The successful musical accompaniment to the stage scenery by Mamed Khydyrov was in unison with the overall poignantly sad content of the theatrical performance.
This play will certainly take its rightful place in the theater's repertoire, and each time viewers will keenly empathize with the drama taking place on the stage, experiencing a genuine shock from the final scene: will the headscarf with the color of the morning dawn fly again on the poplar twig?


©Turkmenistan Analytic magazine, 2005