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Thrills, Farce and Dramatic Coups / ,

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Thrills, Farce and Dramatic Coups / ,

( . )

As the curtain comes down onthe theater season, it's time topick the best and worst ofayear ofhigh drama.

No, weshall not gogently into that black night, that wasteland ofsummer months far crueler than April. The 2006-2007theater season may beover. But, yes, for the 16th year running, wefirst shall have our last huzzah. Even asplayhouses are poised tohibernate and self-respectingtheater-goers are primed tofly the coop, allow ustocast one last glance over our shoulder atthe people and events that made ustake notice over the last 11 months.

We atThe Moscow Times are modest folk. You have noticed that while reading our weekly accounts. You have also noted that wesometimes differ inopinion with that grizzly ogre, Conventional Wisdom. Fear not. Ontop ofeverything else, weare monster-killers. For the real scoop onwhat happened onMoscow's stages this season, turn the page and read on.

Trend ofthe Year: Future Soft. Look carefully through the following vignettes. You will see signs ofnew movements, artists, troupes and theaters coming into their own and ofolder ones collapsing orundergoing radical transformation. It's asubtle shift, nodrastic shock. But theater inMoscow isvastly different from what itwas even two years ago.

Foreigner ofthe Year: Martin McDonagh. This Irish playwright's name was oneveryone's lips and his plays were onnearly asmany stages. The Beauty Queen ofLeenane was staged twice atthe Vakhtangov and the Satirikon. The Cripple ofInishmaan was mounted atthe Meyerhold Center. The Pillowman opened atthe Chekhov Moscow Art Theater and The Lonesome West was staged atthe Satirikon.

Most Curious Coup: The management change atthe Theater ofNations. Managing director Mikhail Chigir, who had run the theater for two decades, was unceremoniously kicked out the door atthe end of2006with nopublic discussion orexplanation. Hewas replaced bypopular actor Yevgeny Mironov, who, because hewas rehearsing ashow for his own Yevgeny Mironov Theater Company, promptly took alengthy leave ofabsence. Mironov finally assumed the reins ofpower, although inhis first seven months asartistic director hehas done nothing ofnote. Rumors fly about what really happened and why: everything from turf wars and real estate shenanigans toanearly salvo inthe publicity campaign that will accompany the presidential election in2008. Nobody knows the truth; or, atleast, wemortals don't.

Longest-Running Soap Opera: The Moscow Culture Committee versus Anatoly Vasilyev's School ofDramatic Art. This saga has dragged onfor years with noend insight. Aside from sex (as far asIknow), ithas everything agood soap needs: court battles, real-estatetug-of-wars, personal vendettas, high-minded rhetoric and heavy-handed tactics. Vasilyev voluntarily exiled himself toFrance almost ayear ago and the Culture Committee turned over the theater's former complex onPovarskaya Ulitsa toanorganization that will run itasanopen space available toall comers. The theater itself, now based inthe complex onUlitsa Sretenka, remains inastate ofsemi-civil war: the creative team and the new management team, installed forcibly bythe Culture Committee, are atconstant loggerheads. The latest news isthat Vasilyev this week sent aletter offormal resignation. Ifyou like things like this, rejoice: There isfodder for plenty more thrills and spills.

Best New Play: Repress and Excite byMaxim Kurochkin atthe EtCetera Theater. What aconcept, repress and excite. Let that sink inaminute: It's the 21st-century modus operandi. And ifanyone has the wit, insight and talent toturn that notion into acomplex dramatic work, it's Kurochkin. This master ofmythology, cultural inter-pollination, time travel and intellectual hooliganism gets myvote asthe playwright most capable ofexpressing the chaos, disaster and bits ofsalvaged sanity that comprise modern life. InRepress and Excite, Kurochkin fused melodrama, confessional prose, cultural criticism and (devastatingly sarcastic) theater history into aseamless play that challenges, provokes, enlightens and amuses. That's nomean feat, folks. Let's bow down toMaxim Kurochkin.

Best Non-Play: The Miracle ofthe Goldfinch byArseny Tarkovsky. This tongue-in-cheek poem written 80 years ago was transformed into adelightful, intriguing celebration oftheater when staged byAlexander Ogaryov atthe School ofDramatic Art.

Best Actress: Polina Agureyeva inIvan Vyrypayev's July atPraktika. This play isthe monologue ofa65-year-old man who has committed mass murders. And believe it: Agureyeva ofthe opposite sex, perhaps 30, and one ofthe most delicate actresses inMoscow was divine for the part. She played the essence ofthe character: his anger, his phobias, his dissipation, his cruelty, his vulnerabilities and his tragedy. Superb acting.

Best Actor: Alexander Kalyagin inRepress and Excite. Great plays, like great directors, can help great actors achieve their due greatness. That's what happened inthe combination ofKalyagin, one ofMoscow's best actors, with Kurochkin's penetrating play about anactor taking stock ofamessy, unscrupulous life. Kalyagin brought irony, anger, intelligence, sensitivity, vulgarity and, perhaps paradoxically, amerciless streak ofindifference tohis performance ofKurochkin's Great Actor. Itisafearless, generous and unblinkingly honest foray into the complex, untidy psyche ofone modern man.

Most Innovative Director: Dmitry Krymov. Krymov seems tohave come out ofnowhere. Itwas just 2003 that heunveiled his first modest production with some design students atthe Russian Academy ofTheater Arts inaffiliation with the School ofDramatic Art. Byfall 2006 when hepremiered his fifth production, The Demon: The View from Above atthe School ofDramatic Art, hewas being included inalmost everyone's list ofthe most important new directors intown. Rightly so. The Demon isascintillating mix oftheater, mime and live design inreal time.

Best Production: Scorched atthe EtCetera Theater, directed and written byWajdi Mouawad. This show looked like nothing else I've seen produced inMoscow. Itcombined slick production values with deeply committed social consciousness and unabashed sincerity. Trendy Moscow tends toridicule the former these days and avoid the latter like the plague. Orvice versa. Inany case, the Lebanese-born,Canadian-based Mouawad doesn't know adamn thing about that and thank goodness. His compelling tale offamilial memory festering into guilt and flowering into forgiveness made for apowerful, moving and unforgettable evening oftheater.

Underachiever: The New Drama Festival. Could this festival beaflash-in-the-pan? Inaugurated in2002, itquickly became amajor forum for the promotion ofnew writing inRussia. Within two years ithad won international renown. But itpeaked afew years ago and began bogging down intendentiousness. The fifth festival inSeptember 2006, the first run exclusively byEduard Boyakov and his Praktika Theater after four years under the wing ofthe Golden Mask Festival, had all the hype and almost none ofthe substance wehave come toexpect from it. Growing pains? Perhaps. Festival No.6comes upinlate September.

Rising Star: Irina Keruchenko. Mounting the third and fourth productions ofher young career this seasonMcDonagh's The Cripple ofInishmaan and Yury Klavdiyev's IAmaMachine-Gunner Keruchenko, pictured below, showed herself tobeone ofthe most interesting and independent new directors onthe horizon.

Up the Down Escalator: Kirill Serebrennikov. Seems like every other year this director turns out one ofthe best shows intown. And onthe years inbetween hechurns out some ofthe biggest clunkers. Itwas the latter this season with two overbloated, underbaked shows inAntony and Cleopatra atthe Sovremennik and Figaro for the Yevgeny Mironov Theater Company.

Poetic Realist: Yury Klavdiyev, author ofIAmaMachine-Gunner, anexploration ofurban violence atthe Playwright and Director Center, and The Polar Truth, aninvestigation ofAIDS and anew society arising out ofthe ashes ofthe old atTeatr.doc. Klavdiyev has astriking talent for couching bitter, unpleasant truths inacontext ofhigh poetry. These plays indicate heremains among the vanguard ofnew Russian playwrights.

Classic Classics: Ivan Popovski's production ofIvan Turgenev's Freeloader, produced bythe International Tolerance Fund, and Alexander Korshunov's production ofAlexander Ostrovsky's Poverty IsNoCrime atthe Maly Theater. Both shows reinvigorated the notion ofgood, old-fashioned theater with fancy costumes, attractive sets, subtle direction and acting that asks spectators todig deep down inside themselves right along with the actors.

Sophocles Lite: Pavel Pryazhko's Panties, ajoint production ofthe Playwright and Director Center and Teatr.doc. Don't get mewrong, I'm not being any more facetious than Pryazhko isinhis play. Hetook anonsensical premise awoman's panties are stolen and she sets out tofind the thief and turned itinto avoyage ofdiscovery, such asaGreek might have penned 2,500 years ago. Ifour world has degraded tothe point that panty raids are now the stuff oftragedy, it's not Pryazhko's fault for telling usso.

Shakespeare, Our Contemporary: Igor Yatsko's production ofShakespeare's Coriolanus atthe School ofDramatic Art. This isthe tale ofabrilliant warrior who isdriven out ofhis country byhis own people and then falls atthe hands ofenemies when herefuses toattack and take back his hometown. It's nocarbon copy ofthe scandalous situation unfolding atthe School ofDramatic Art (see Longest-Running Soap Opera), but it's close enough tobeafascinating commentary onwhat Anatoly Vasilyev and others atthe theater are enduring. It's also apowerful piece oftheater inits own right.

Super Solo, Female: Olga Prikhudailova inYes IWill Yes, originally aproduction ofthe Poisk Predmeta Theater, now ofthe Playwright and Director Center. Inthis one-woman show, Prikhudailova did afine job ofbringing tolife Molly's monologue from the end ofJames Joyce's Ulysses. I'm skeptical about men waxing eloquent about what itmeans tobeawoman, but Prikhudailova made Joyce's text her own and shared some secrets with usthat weall men and womenwould dowell toknow.

Super Solo, Male: Kirill Pletnyov inIAmaMachine-Gunner. Pletnyov fairly smothered Klavdiyev's chillingly harsh but poetic play about killing and dying with charm and goodwill. Byembracing and embellishing the contrasts onwhich Klavdiyev built his play, the actor brought the topic ofurban violence and lost souls right uptoour eye level.

Table-Turner: Alexander Matrosov. Everybody knows Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary isabout Emma Bovary. And that's true atthe Pushkin Theater, where Alla Sigalova's dazzling dramatization ofthe novel starred the electrifying Alexandra Ursulyak asEmma. Yet through his extraordinarily subtle and tensile performance ofEmma's long-suffering husband, Charles, Matrosov broke new ground inthis familiar tale, making ussee the tragedy ofhis life asiffor the first time. Deliberately shunning flash and spectacle, Matrosov turned inarevelatory performance oftremendous depth.

Tale for All Time: Shakespeare's King Lear asdirected byYury Butusov atthe Satirikon Theater and Lev Dodin atthe Maly Drama Theater ofSt.Petersburg (performed inMoscow during the Golden Mask Festival). What could betimelier than astory about aking who destroys absolutely everything and only realizes too late what hehas done? Konstantin Raikin's Lear for the Satirikon and Pyotr Semak's for the Maly Drama Theater drove this dispiriting truth home for usonce and twice again.

Theater ofthe Year: The EtCetera. Having taken upresidence inspectacular new digs near Chistiye Prudy, Alexander Kalyagin's EtCetera Theater put onabrilliant display this season. (See Best New Play, Best Actor and Best Production.) Itunveiled four new shows, which were vastly different from each other but equally challenging. Things began with aninventive music-based adaptation ofMikhail Bulgakov's novella Morphine, moved ontoastimulating production ofMaxim Kurochkin's Repress and Excite, and concluded with the scintillating Scorched byWajdi Mouawad. Asign ofthe theater's achievement was the one show Ithought didn't work Bertolt Brecht's Drums inthe Night. Ambitious and visually striking, ifnot always coherent, this marked the Moscow directing debut ofthe unquestionably talented Ulanbek Bayaliyev. The EtCetera showed itwas willing toexperiment with mixed genre works (Morphine), challenging new drama (Repress and Excite), major international artists (Mouawad) and promising unknowns (Bayaliyev). That's arecipe for success.

Man ofthe Year: Sergei Zhenovach. This man isonaroll. After opening the Studio ofTheatrical Art in2005, heconsolidated his position this season asone ofthe most visible and popular theater artists intown. His theater turned out three crowd-pleasing shows between September and April. When Zhenovach and/or his actors pulled down half ofthe possible eight awards for drama atthe Golden Mask Festival inApril, his status asamember ofthe elite was sealed.

Farewell: Death took aheavy toll this year. Mikhail Ulyanov (1927-2007) was aniconic actor ofthe Soviet period. Asthe chairman ofthe Russian Theater Union (1986-96) and artistic director ofthe Vakhtangov Theater (1987-2007), hehelped shape theater policy asweknow ittoday. Kirill Lavrov (1925-2007) was another iconic Soviet actor and, inhis capacity asartistic director ofthe Bolshoi Drama Theater inSt.Petersburg (1989-2007), president ofthe International Confederation ofTheater Associations (1992-2007) and other official posts, was one ofRussian theater's most important and beloved figures. Tatyana Lavrova (1938-2007), norelation toKirill Lavrov, was one ofthe finest actresses atthe Sovremennik and the Moscow Art Theater from the 1960s tothe 1990s. Viktor Gvozditsky (1952-2007) was famed for roles inlegendary productions bynumerous experimental directors. Gennady Bortnikov (1939-2007) was one ofthe most popular actors from the 1960s tothe 1980s. Russian theater has changed noticeably with their passing.



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