Have you ever imagined living in a locked room, isolated from the outside, and the only person you got to talk with is your own family? We’re actually doing it right now because of the COVID-19 pandemic that started in 2020. But, 12 years prior, a famous Russian writer and pioneer of the genre chernukha, Lyudmila Petrushevskaya, made it into a grim short story about living in isolation to survive from a disease. The name is Hygiene. It was then adapted by Theater Daleko, an Annual Play by Russian Studies students, early this year. A visual theatre about an isolation within a family during a deadly epidemic, titled “ISOLASI”.
The story centered around the R family. A family consisted of grandfather, grandmother, the parents: Nikolai and Elena, and a little girl with her beloved-disastrous stray cat. They spend lockdown together in an inadequate apartment far from hygiene, which is something that should be aware of because the disease could be transmitted through rats. The only source of contact from outside is a man who survived through the disease, claimed to be immune, and offered help door to door, including the R family. Though, R family refused the need for help and did fine by themselves despite the situation, because Nikolai, the father, took care of their supplies during the night by looting into the shop. However, amidst the lockdown and people are in desperate need. Eventually, they will run out of food, and unfortunately also their sanity.
At home, their little girl can’t stop feeding the cat and keep it with her. This brings into a complete disaster when the cat eats a rat in their apartment one morning, and Lyudmila can’t help but kiss the cat’s mouth proudly. The entire family loses their minds and ends up locking each other up to death. It’s all too late because the lack of hygiene in the house already spread within the family members. Upon reaching the climax of chaos, the immune man is shown to come knocking at their door only to find out the family was dead ghastly, except for the little girl who surprisingly is the same as him. The man and the girl locked eyes and recognized the scar they received because of the disease and left it with an open ending with more questions than answers.
The theme of isolation is quite familiar in a horror story. In 2001, a classic horror movie, The Shining, directed by Stanley Kubrick, also brought this kind of theme by putting a family in an isolated hotel during harsh winter. By any means, isolation here is highlighted by a situation that trapped you inside by natural force and sought security inside with people you live with. But as the story goes deeper and longer as the characters lounge inside with the same people and doing the same, repeated things for a long time, eventually will lead them as a separate individual and insanity. This is where Hygiene and The Shining share the same horror they offer to the audience, especially when the father of the family, whom they depend on, is going through things himself and lead him to complete insanity within the family.
The theatre brought Hygiene into absolute isolation while keeping the actors as family members interacted. And by this method, Theatre Daleko is doing it virtually. An alternative solution to the modern theatre during the pandemic. Like other theaters nowadays doing to keep them producing new plays despite the situation, they use online platforms to act and deliver the story to the audience through pre-recorded videos — this method already used by some theatre since pandemic impacted this field significantly. However, in this way, developed technology, of course, we could bring a 2009 Hygiene short story to adapt it into theatre in which both tell the same struggle in a pandemic, but in a modern theatrical way.
Now that the feeling of isolation is close with anyone in this pandemic break, Hygiene might be relatable to some extent. From Hygiene we can see what reflects our current condition if one acts recklessly about the virus. Of course, we don’t want to end up like the R family once contracted with the disease. But the threat is real, and sometimes reality could be worse than fiction.
Editor: Ruthana Bitia
Ilustrator: Ahmad Adiyaat