Acting scene from the world premiere 1902 in Moscow, act 2
Former Bugrov Homeless Shelter, the "home" of the prototypes of the characters of The Lower Depths. Currently, the building houses the Nizhny Novgorod office of Russia's Federal Migration service.
The Lower Depths (Russian: На дне, Na dne, literally: 'At the bottom') is perhaps the best known of Maxim Gorky's plays. It was written during the winter of 1901 and the spring of 1902. Subtitled "Scenes from Russian Life," it depicted a group of impoverished Russians living in a shelter near the Volga. Produced by the Moscow Arts Theatre on December 18, 1902, Konstantin Stanislavski directed and starred. It became his first major success, and a hallmark of Russian social realism.
The characters of The Lower Depths are said to have been inspired by the denizens of the Bugrov Homeless Shelter (Russian: Бугровская ночлежка, Bugrovskaya nochlezhka) in Nizhny Novgorod, which had been built in 1880–83 by the Old Believer grain merchant and philanthropistNikolai Alexandrovich Bugrov (Russian: Николай Александрович Бугров) (1837–1911) in memory of his father, A. P. Bugrov. When the actors of the Moscow Arts Theatre were preparing the play for its first run in 1902, Maxim Gorky supplied them with photographs of the Nizhny Novgorod underclass taken by the famous local photographer, Maxim Dmitriev (Максим Дмитриев), to help with the realism of the acting and costumes.
When it first appeared, The Lower Depths was criticized for its pessimism and ambiguous ethical message. The presentation of the lower classes was viewed as overly dark and unredemptive, and Gorky was clearly more interested in creating memorable characters than in advancing a formal plot. However, in this respect, the play is generally regarded as a masterwork.
The theme of harsh truth versus the comforting lie pervades the play from start to finish, as most of the characters choose to deceive themselves over the bleak reality of their condition.
In the 1955 animated film Lady and the Tramp's dog pound scene, the incarcerated and homeless Russian Wolfhound Boris quotes a passage from the play: "Miserable being must find more miserable being. Then is happy."