In Defense of Piotr: Why this 19th-Century Hipster is My Favorite Character in “Fathers and Sons”

By Robin Goldberg, production dramaturg

Costume rendering for “Piotr”
by Sarie Gessner ’15

If you were an inhabitant or member of the staff at the Kirsanov manor, hearing the master of the house, Nikolai, yelling for Piotr would be an infuriating everyday occurrence. Never where he’s supposed to be and always ready with a cheeky comeback, Piotr is a teenage, newly emancipated serf testing the boundaries of what he can get away with at work. Despite taking place about 150 years ago, Fathers and Sons hosts a cast of characters that resemble people we’ve all run across in our contemporary lives. As older teens and early twenty-somethings, it’s no surprise that we relate so strongly to this punk kid with multi-colored hair and piercings who talks back to and questions his boss.

Piotr is a great foil for the more serious young people in the play. Arkady and Bazarov are clearly passionate about the politics and social issues of the day, but pay less attention to how this progressive movement is personally affecting their peers. Piotr is also progressively minded: as a former serf, he actually lived through the conditions Arkady and Bazarov are fighting against. However, as a member of the peasant class, he was not afforded the opportunity to go to university and learn about the bigger picture of what was happening in his country. Piotr’s perspective isn’t one of general indignation; for him, everything is personal.

As someone right at the center of a social movement, Piotr has a greater understanding and appreciation of the experiences of the people. For him, this is a cultural revolution – something that directly affects his way of life. He’s not interested in high-minded writings and political discourse; instead he embodies the revolution through his dress and in his voice. His hair, turquoise earring, and sarcasm are presented proudly as membership of his social standing and beliefs. If he were alive today, perhaps Piotr would resemble a city kid like us, with political pins, patches, and t-shirts boasting slogans related to our most cherished causes.

Emerson kids are jokingly referred to as hipsters – primarily concerned with our vinyl collections, oversized sweaters, and writing our next poem or screenplay or tweet with a coffee in our other hand. Whatever anyone calls us, however, we are part of a younger generation that’s taking stock of our social and political environment, and not necessarily liking what we find. Like Piotr, our rebellion may seem largely trend-heavy, but we’re just as well-versed in current events as the older folks who may see us as “insolent pups” too.

Like Piotr, we can see the bigger picture while immersed in our own lives. We’re just as concerned with politics as we are with the individual parts we play in our culture. Arkady and Bazarov may see themselves as removed from the issues they concern themselves with, but Piotr knows his place is with his peers, right in the heart of all the change.

As with everything, personal experience is more important than an expert opinion — in other words, don’t take Robin’s opinion for your own…check out the show, running Feb 6-9 at the Paramount MainStage  Tickets at any Emerson box office or here

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