The U.S. debut of Vassily Sigarev’s “Black Milk” reintroduces Americans to the plight of Post-Soviet Russia as she weans herself from communism and rechristens her people as Capitalists. The play follows the apoplectic newlywed couple of Lyovchik and his gravid wife Poppet as they smoke and curse waiting for a train to brisk them away from the provinces back to St. Petersburg. Lyovchik and Poppet have ventured deep into their “Boundless Motherland” to swindle their fellow countrymen into purchasing defective Malaysian toasters. The dysfunctional duo discover the peasantry have little need for an electric toaster as any spare change is put to the purchase of bootlegged, often poisonous, booze homebrewed by a citified rail ticket-clerk. Regardless, or because of this epidemic, Lyovchik and Poppet are able to make a few sales before boarding the train home.
Jonathan Crary observed, “Modernization is a process by which capitalism uproots and makes mobile that which is grounded.” In “Black Milk” modernization is not an altogether welcome guest. Instead of bringing wealth for the welfare of the village people, outsiders from the Russian cities have mobilized their corruption and inflicted it upon the provinces. In the playwright’s youth, Sigarev bore witness to maladies of this kind as a new Russia emerged from the ashes of the Soviet Union. A native of an area rich in titanium, Sigarev and his peers made considerable sums rifling through waste pits of defunct factories to uncover and resell the available titanium. Soon, however, their winnings were funneled towards drugs and alcohol, and eventually the income petered out. This is a motif Sigarev uses to illuminate the travails of contemporary Russia in this play.