“Griboyedov-Blues” aFeisty Take onWoe From Wit

The Moscow Times

Russian culture bywhich Imean the world ofthe arts islocked inabattle, the likes ofwhich have not been seen here for decades.

Many know events inNovosibirsk where adirector, atheater manager and aproduction ofRichard Wagner's “Tannhauser“ fell victim toattacks from the state and church. But “Tannhauser“ isthe tip ofthe iceberg.

New confrontations affect theaters and artists almost daily. InMoscow the Open Stage project was taken over byamanaging director who canceled all projects preceding his appointment, wiping out years ofwork. InPskov atheater troupe recently attempted toclose ashow before itopened, denouncing director Varvara Faer toRussian Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky.

The disgruntled actors claimed that Faer's „The Banya Master,” based oninterviews done with locals, offended them with obscenity, nudity and anirreverent view oftheir city.

Anatoly Ledukhovsky's „Griboyedov-Blues” atMoscow's Home Theater atthe Shchepkin House has nothing and everything todowith this trend.

The fact isthat even ancient history, like Russia inthe 1820s when Alexander Griboyedov wrote his great comedy “Woe From Wit,” has ways ofresonating clearly with the present.

Griboyedov isanicon ofindependence and opposition inRussia. His play was banned until 30years after his death, inpart for cascades ofpithy phrases satirizing power, stupidity and that human penchant for groveling. Itstruck too close tohome for those with reputations todefend, and they attempted tobury it.

Ledukhovsky's clever show, rather like one created two years ago byGeorg Genoux and Nikolai Berman based onthe writings ofthe banned 19th-century philosopher Pyotr Chaadayev, isanindication that the conflicts surrounding usnow have roots and precedents inthe distant past.

Inthe case of“Griboyedov Blues,“ the connection ismade cleverly. Ledukhovsky imagines amodern television talk show whose special guest isAlexander Chatsky, the great-great-great-grandson ofthe leading character in„Woe From Wit,” who has flown into Moscow from his home inthe United States especially for the broadcast.

This Chatsky, played byYulia Bogdanovich inaclassic black suit that would look assharp inthe 19th century asitdoes inthe 21st, ismore than the host can handle. Heisrude, aggressive, caustic and loose-mannered inakind ofAmerican way, aswell aswitty and acerbic alaRusse. Hespouts lines that his literary character-ancestor speaks inGriboyedov's play, repeatedly confounding the toy-doll host who issocheery and intent ondigging upnews, ifnot dirt, that she rarely sees the zingers flying past her.

Bogdanovich invests Chatsky with anabundance ofbitterness and sarcasm. Hiding behind impenetrable dark glasses, slouched rudely inhis chair, and spitting invectives drawn from the canonic text of“Woe From Wit,” this Chatsky unleashes withering attacks onignorance and banality.

All ofthis takes place amid one ofthose mindless gimmicks whereby spectators are asked tocall inand vote for the greatest name inRussian history. IsitPeter the Great? Pushkin? Stalin? Griboyedov?

Naturally, the phone system and voting mechanism break down, constantly forcing the talk-show host Sofya Pavlovna toimprovise, which she does tofine comic effect.

Olesya Mozdir's Sofya Pavlovna isahoot. Bubbly, energetic, quick-tongued but more often slow ofmind, she isone ofthose train wrecks welove towatch happen. She seems not tonotice that Chatsky, unleashing adeath rattle from time totime, may beavampire, adevil, orjust plain dead. Her job istoentertain and she does that, come hell orhigh water.

Things turn purposefully kitschy when Conchita Wurst (Yury Ageny), the drag queen winner ofthe 2014Eurovision song contest, enters toprovide some diversionary song and dance.

Perhaps too late, the performance takes another detour inanobscure, prolonged epilogue that inapseudo blues-tinged environment, sees all three characters continue their debate about Russia and its mission.

Asspot-on as some ofthe text was here, itadded little that the main part ofthe show had not already accomplished.

Atits best, however, “Griboyedov Blues” unleashes apowerful punch atthe state ofpublic discourse inRussia today.


, 29.04.2015

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