Best known today as the author of War and Peace and Anna Karenina, Count Leo Tolstoy also is acknowledged as a skilled playwright. His five-act drama The Power of Darkness offers a cold and unsparing look at Russian peasant life that illustrates the costs of pursuing personal desires rather than the dictates of morality. The grimly realistic tragedy is based on a real incident, centering on a peasant's confession to a party of wedding guests of his participation in a series of horrific crimes that range from adultery and murder to infanticide.
Tolstoy's moving portrait of a class enslaved by poverty and ignorance was written in 1886, but its performance was suppressed by Russian authorities until 1902. A 1904 version, performed in New York in Yiddish, marked the first successful production of a play by Tolstoy in the United States.