Theater Under Threat
All and OnáGogol's Moon are two unusual and creative entries ináthe Golden Mask's Experiment Competition. But their future isáuncertain.
The Moscow Times
Passing pleasures are noáless pleasurable for their brevity. Still, there are some things you'd like toásee last aálittle longer.
Consider All, aátypically unorthodox production atáthe Ten Theater, which provides anáeccentric look atáthe myths ofáAlexander Pushkin and Nikolai Gogol ináRussian culture. Upáfor anáaward ináthe Experiment Competition ofáthe Golden Mask Festival, which isácurrently underway ináMoscow, this quirky mix ofálive acting, film and animation has been performed just nine times but its future isáuncertain.
And consider OnáGogol's Moon, anáidiosyncratic take onáGogol's life and work that has been performed four times atáthe Shchepkin Museum. The administration ofáthe museum, currently under reconstruction, has not decided whether toámake its pristine, empty halls available toáthe show's company for further performances.
It would beáaáshame toálose either one ofáthese unusual productions, which purposefully stray asáfar from the mainstream asáthey possibly can.
OnáGogol's Moon, subtitled źPlaying the Classics, No.á1,╗ isáaásometimes dreamy, sometimes jarring fantasy onáthemes that have been associated with Gogol for over aácentury and aáhalf. The text consists ofáexcerpts drawn from Gogol's works mixed with snippets ofáliterary criticism, songs, aácontemporary story byáViktoria Tokareva and even anáastrological forecast. The show commences long before itábegins, asáactors dance gracefully through the empty rooms ofáthe museum, occasionally approaching spectators ináthe coatroom orátheater cafe ináthe basement toáwhisper revelations about Gogol. Meanwhile, anáanimated film ofáGogol portraits morphing into the Mona Lisa oráother grimacing orálaughing faces isáprojected onáthe cafe's back wall. When spectators finally take their seats ináthe main performance room upstairs, they are greeted byáaáscowling figure ináanáovercoat (Yulia Bogdanovich), snapping aáswitch ináthe air every few moments.
Director Anatoly Ledukhovsky pulled together aáshow that explores and seeks toádefend everything that isástrange, obnoxious, sickly and obscure ináthe creative temperament. Gogol's Madman (Yelena Voronchikhina), from The Notes ofáaáMadman, isáassailed byáthe threatening figure ináthe overcoatáŚ perhaps, atáthis moment, aásadistic guard ináanáasylumáŚ while ináaálater scene the great 19th-century Russian actor Mikhail Shchepkin (Ildar Allabirdin) encourages Gogol toáscorn the wrath ofáthe public, for their wrath isáthe very proof ofáhis success asáaáwriter. Aácharacter identified asáGogol-Mogol (Maria Galkina), the Russian for eggnog, sings lilting, melodic songs with off-kilter lyrics creating the impression ofáaáworld ináwhich the fabric ofáreality isáonáthe verge ofáripping wide open. Itáisáaáterritory that isáboth puzzling and appealing. Aádrowned woman seeking revenge (Olesya Mozdir) from Gogol's story AáMay Night, oráthe Drowned Woman morphs into aácontemporary girl spurned inálove. These women, like other spectral characters coming and going ináLedukhovsky's Gogolian universe, are poised onáthe brink ofáoblivion, struggling toámake life mean something byátelling oráacting out stories about it.
The performance takes place ináaábare, white room with doors toátwo other rooms occasionally opening toádeliver oráswallow upáthe transient actors. Lighting isáoften provided byáactors carrying candles oráspotlights that create monstrous and funny shadows crawling upáand down the walls.
Gogol's world, which has been one ofáthe most curious ináall ofáRussian literature ever since itáappeared nearly 180 years ago, emerges ináLedukhovsky's interpretation asáone that isásurreal but, paradoxically perhaps, not bizarre. Everything ináthis constantly shifting tale isáfamiliaráŚ madmen set upon byáthose intending toáheal them; dreamers brought back toáearth byápeople demanding clarity and practicality; discarded lovers and other sinned-against individuals plotting revenge orárelease. Isn't this the world asáweáknow it? But Ledukhovsky brings itátoáusáinádelicately skewed form, stories breaking off unfinished and running into others with which they seem toáhave nothing inácommon.
All isáaámultimedia performance piece employing the work's actual author onástage asáaáplaywright (Sergei Kokovkin), aárespected poet asáanáaccomplished poet (Lev Rubinshtein), aátheater administrator impersonating aátheater administrator (Alexei Shashilov), the theater's managing director (Maya Krasnopolskaya) ináthe role ofáaátheater manager and aágenuine famous actor (Nikolai Fomenko) playing the role ofáaágenuinely famous actor playing the role ofáPushkin 30 years after heáwas supposed toáhave been killedáŚ but was not. Throw ináthe participation ofáPushkin and Gogol asápuppets and characters ináanáanimated film plus, byáway ofávideotaped conversations, aáhost ofáfamous theater personalities having their say onáwhat this play may mean and how itáshould beádone, and you have aáquintessential production byáIlya Epelbaum, the founder and brainiac who invariably isábehind the delightfully crazy doings atáthe Ten Theater.
All isábased onáKokovkin's play Pushkinogopilis, although itáveers soáfar off-course it isánoáwonder the playwright isámore confused byáwhat isáhappening than anyone else. Buffeted byáindifferent theater employees, hostile spectators and his own lack ofábelief ináwhat heáisádoingáŚ the writer commences byáreading his play inásuch aámumble, itáseems his main goal isátoáavoid letting anyone hear itá- heásoon finds himself entering into arguments and giving himself upátoáreminiscences ofádays gone by. This isáhow the renowned director Pyotr Fomenko first appears onáscreen, for decades ago Kokovkin acted ináaáplay Fomenko staged ináLeningrad. Fomenko isáfollowed by, among others, Roman Viktyuk and Kama Ginkas, both ofáwhom have staged plays byáKokovkin.
With the appearance ofáthese directors, All splits into two plays atáonce. One isáwhat isáleft ofáPushkinogopilis, the tale ofáhow Pushkin survived his duel with his rival D'Anthes iná1837áand ended upávisiting Gogol ináRome 30 years later. The other isáthe constantly shifting picture ofáwhat the play might look like ifáitáwere staged byáFomenko, Ginkas orásomeone else. Ináfact, what weáactually see isáless aádescription ofáaápotential production and more aápsychological and creative portrait ofáthese directors atáwork. Weásee them ináthat rare and fascinating moment when they begin toálet their imaginations run free. Fomenko isácrafty and ironic, aáfountain ofáideas and unexpected references. Ginkas isáinspired, opinionated, energetic, contradictory and sarcastic, claiming heáresembles Pushkin because the jokes ofáboth invariably offend rather than amuse. Viktyuk, famous for his splashy, glitzy style, immediately retreats behind aápair ofásunglasses when the camera isáturned onáand carefully slicks back his hair.
AlláŚ taking its title from the critic Apollon Grigoryev's famous observation that Pushkin isáour everythingáŚ isáaáweird duck ofáaáshow, and aáwonderful one, too. It's rather like aámulti-disciplinary encyclopedia ofáRussian culture and the creative process thrown together out ofáalphabetical order and missing half its pagesáŚ and published inácomic book form.
Moscow theater has become dangerously slick and predictable over the last few years. Shows like All and OnáGogol's Moon are admirable antidotes toáthat. Help save idiosyncratic theater: Call these venues and tell them you want toásee these shows.
All (Vsyo) plays atáthe Ten Theater, located atá5áOktyabrskaya Ulitsa. Metro Novoslobodskaya. Tel. 681-1516, 681-3590. Running time: 2áhours.
OnáGogol's Moon (Na Lune Gogolya) plays atáthe Shchepkin Museum, located atá47áUlitsa Shchepkina, Bldg. 2. Metro Prospekt Mira. Tel. 600-6149. Running time: 2áhours.
John Freedman, 11.04.2008
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