Babel: How it was Done in Odessa

by Judith Sone
Back to Semester of the Arts

When and Where

Sunday, March 2
2:00 p.m.
Lathrop Hall, H’Doubler Performance Space
1050 University Avenue
Madison, WI 53706

more babelAbout the Program

Directed by Sarah Kane
Conceived for the stage, translated and performed by Andrei Malaev-Babel
Adapted by Roland Reed
Set and Costume Design by Alexander Okun
Lighting Design by Konstantin Tikhonov

Isaac Babel was recognized during his life as one of the greatest prose writers of the twentieth century—“the best Russia has to offer,”as Maxim Gorky wrote to Andre MalrauxHis works have influenced the writings of American authors such as Saul Bellow, Philip Roth and Grace Paley.In 1939, at the peak of his career, on Stalin’s orders, Babel was arrested by the KGB on charges of espionage, tortured, tried and finally, in 1940, executed in the Lubyanka prison in Moscow. His unpublished manuscripts were confiscated and are still missing. Babel: How It Was Done In Odessa is a tribute to Isaac Babel by his grandson, actor-artist Andrei Malaev-Babel, performing five of Babel’s stories in this solo performance. Created in 2004 in celebration of the 110th anniversary of Isaac Babel’s birth, it has since been presented over 50 times.

Babel: How It Was Done in Odessa celebrates the vibrant, colorful life of Odessa and its citizens; it teems with characters of all ages, races and nationalities, just as the city was before the Russian Revolution. At the heart of the production is the character of Benya Krik, a larger than life gangster with a sense of humor, justice and honor, almost an Odessan Robin Hood.  Other infamous figures in the Jewish quarter, such as Froim Grach and Kolya Shvarts, add to the richness and variety of the production’s texture.

Yet in the celebration of life, its end is never far away: each story touches on one or more deaths, most of them met in untimely and violent fashion. Life thus becomes something all the more precious, all the more worthy of celebration, its exuberance and excesses to be savored. This is tangible in Babel’s colorful and finely chiseled writing style, where every word counts.

This production celebrates not only Isaak Emmanuilovich Babel’s writings but also his life, lived at times so carelessly, perhaps even recklessly, and ended so suddenly and anonymously.  Little tangible has remained of either his life or his writings: all the more reason to celebrate on stage the diverse and unique creative wealth of this Russian-Jewish writer, recognized by the New York Times as “…a literary genius framed by twentieth century tragedy.”

Read more about Isaac Babel

About the Artist

Screen Shot 2013-12-09 at 3.34.50 PMAndrei Malaev-Babel is an Associate Professor of Theatre and the Head of Acting at the FSU/Asolo Conservatory for Actor Training in Sarasota, Florida – one of the US’ top-ten graduate theatre programs. He is also a principle teacher of directing and acting at The New College of Florida. Mr. Malaev-Babel has served on the faculty of The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC. He is a member of the international faculty and on the board of MICHA, the Michael Chekhov Association in New York City. Since 1997, Mr. Malaev-Babel has served as the Producing Artistic Director for the Stanislavsky Theater Studio (STS), an award-winning company and conservatory in Washington, DC. For STS, he co-adapted, directed and/or played leading roles in productions such as Goethe’s Faust, Cervantes’ Don Quixote, Chekhov’s The Seagull, Neil Simon’s The Good Doctor, Brian Friel’s Fathers and Sons, Moliere’s Le Malade Imaginaire, Gogol’s Dead Souls and Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov. In 2000 he was nominated for a Helen Hayes Award as an Outstanding Director for the STS production of Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot. Under Mr. Malaev-Babel’s artistic direction, the company received five Helen Hayes Award nominations and won two consecutive Helen Hayes Awards. His productions were presented at The Kennedy Center and The National Theater in Washington, DC, where he also appeared as a performer.

Mr. Malaev-Babel’s reputation as one of the leading experts on the Stanislavsky, Demidov and Michael Chekhov theater techniques, brought him special engagements and commissions from institutions such as The Smithsonian Institution, The World Bank, The Keenan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and the Russian Embassy in the US. He is working nationally and internationally, conducting workshops, presenting and performing for conferences, festivals and theater programs, including St. Petersburg Theater Academy (St. Petersburg, Russia), Volkov Theater Institute (Yaroslavl, Russia), The University of Windsor (Canada), Stanford University, Actors Movement Studio (New York, NY) and The Arena Stage Theater (Washington, DC), Young Vic Theatre (London, UK), Michael Chekhov Studio London (UK).

In July of 2001, Mr. Malaev-Babel’s one-man show Babel: How It Was Done In Odessa was presented by the United Nations in Moscow in support of the Red Ribbon AIDS Russia and CIS – Entertainment stars against AIDS campaign. Mr. Malaev-Babel’s production of My Mocking Happiness, based on Anton Chekhov’s original correspondence, opened the program of the 8th International Volkov Theater Festival in Yaroslavl, Russia in October of 2007. He is the author of the Guide to the Psychological Gesture Technique published in the 2003 Routledge edition of Michael Chekhov’s seminal book, To the Actor. Mr. Malaev-Babel’s groundbreaking volumes on Yevgeny Vakhtangov’s heritage, The Vakhtangov Sourcebook and Yevgeny Vakhtangov: A Critical Portrait, came out from Routledge in 2011 and 2012. He is currently co-editing and translating an English-Russian simultaneous release of Nikolai Demidov’s theatrical heritage.

Andrei Malaev-Babel is a graduate of the renowned Vakhtangov Theater Institute in Moscow, Russia. He trained and worked under Alexandra Remizova, co-founder of the Vakhtangov Theater, Stanislavsky’s student and Vakhtangov’s protégé. In 1985, he co-founded the Moscow Chamber Forms Theater, one of the first private professional theater companies in Russia.


Mr. Malaev-Babel’s performance is sponsored by the Mosse/Weinstein Center for Jewish Studies and was made possible through a generous grant from the Anonymous Fund. It is also sponsored by the Center for Russia, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia (CREECA), the Department of Slavic Languages and Literature, and the Russian Flagship Program. Additional support has been provided by the Studio Creative Arts and Design Community of Sellery Residence Hall.