Did you have Russian nesting dolls as a child?
Russian dolls were invented around 1890. This was a heady time in Russia. Dostoevsky had already published The Brothers Karamazov serially in the papers. Philosophy must have been in the air.
I imagine there were schoolyards full of tiny Alyoshas and Grushenkas, running around and throwing onions at each other in the snow. “Please don’t throw that onion at me,” says a quiet girl with pigtails. “ Ha ha, that’s not an onion. It’s a metaphor for being!” screams a bully (in Russian) as he throws the thing. “Chew on that!” The girl dusts herself off and winces with spiritual and physical awareness.
In this atmosphere, I can picture a twisted toymaker sitting in a dark dark room, on a faded velvet chair, age spots on his hands, crafting dolls meant to crack open your philosophy.
Is this meant to be fun? How on earth are you meant to play with these? It’s endless iterations of the same person. If you try to create a narrative with the dolls, you’ll get an Adrienne Kennedy play, or a Chris Durang concoction. You have discovered the divisible self. Make your appointment with a therapist now.
(You could alternatively see the dolls as carrying out a matriarchal story line, with older generations readily eclipsing younger ones. This is equally healthy for the psyche.)
Playing with the dolls meant examining them. I would look them over for details, to see if the painted smile faded when you got down to the minute. I mean: to the littlest doll. (Am I talking about play structure or toy structure? Aren’t plays in fact meant to be little philosophical toys?)
The best part was always getting to the smallest doll, which almost felt essential. But I also would think about the limitations of material form. This game was by logic supposed to keep going on. Could a smaller doll be made? What would come after the littlest doll?
Now I also ask: What happens if you push past matter? Is there spirit or void when you scratch too far at the surface?
And: Can you push past one minute into eternity?
The 5th Annual New York One-Minute Play Festival: 75 Play. 60+ Playwrights. 40+ Actors. 9 Directors. 1 Minute. With Primary Stages at 59e59 Theatres, in support and benefit of ESPA. Tickets are $20, and available here.