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New Director’s Achievement is in His Ambition
"The Moscow Times" ,
Working out of St. Petersburg, Grigory Dityatkovsky in the last few years has established himself as one of the most important new Russian directors. Several of his productions for the Bolshoi Drama Theater and the Theater Na Liteinom have brought him national recognition. This season marks Dityatkovsky’s Moscow debut. He has just unveiled a production of August Strindberg’s “A Dream Play” at the Et Cetera Theater and is working on Carlo Gozzi’s “The King Stag” at the Vakhtangov Theater. Joining Dityatkovsky in this small but noteworthy Moscow invasion is Emil Kapelyush, the St. Petersburg-based designer who has also quickly joined the ranks of the nation’s best in a short period of time. Both artists bring to the table a fresh approach that, in comparison to the typical Moscow fare, stands out for its carefully wrought style, its intellectual qualities and its St. Petersburg – or, I guess we could say, European -- sophistication. As for “A Dream Play,” one topic is unavoidable and so I’ll get to it right now: It is not Dityatkovsky’s most successful production. It may be, however, the most ambitious thing I have seen him do and that in itself is no small recommendation. Whatever its flaws may be, “A Dream Play” signifies the continued growth and aspirations of a major talent. Strindberg’s play, portraying the semi-connected scenes of a goddess coming to earth to experience first-hand the suffering that humans must endure, is what we could call a complex classic. It’s an oft-anthologized piece, one that is frequently quoted and referred to in discussions of the development of drama in the last century, but it is one that is hard to perform. Strindberg himself admits that he sought to capture the incoherence and pseudo-logic of the dream state. Theater, on the other hand, is a supremely concrete art form, one that demands highly practical solutions even to the most abstract problems. Where this show works beautifully is in its portrayal of an other-worldly and ever-changing state of being. The multi-planed set by Kapelyush, the lighting of it by Gleb Filshtinsky (another St. Petersburg-based artist who made us take notice here in 2001 with his brilliant work on Alexander Bakshi’s “The Polyphony of the World”) and Dityatkovsky’s use of them are often breathtaking. This production contains some of the most gorgeous images we will see in a theater this season. The weaknesses come in Dityatkovsky’s effort to give the abstract action a base in reality. On one hand, it would seem that “A Dream Play” is perfectly suited to his temperament. He is a master not only at creating atmospheres, but in imbuing them with meaning and depth. When he has applied his unorthodox style to relatively conventional plays, the result has been striking, opening them up to new interpretations. Here, however, the analogous ambiguities of the director and the writer occasionally cancel each other out. Dityatkovsky cut numerous of Strindberg’s characters although he risked having three actresses play the goddess who comes to earth (Ksenia Lavrova-Glinka, Maria Skosyreva and Natalya Blagikh). The latter two of these actresses also double as other characters, while three actors (Nikolai Molochkov, Andrei Kondakov and Valery Pankov) share duties playing the key figure of the Officer whose life is squandered in waiting and repeating himself incessantly. But for all the work that went into approximating a dream state, the cast most often seems to be playing scenes from a routine, even lowbrow, drama. The two aspects, crucial to an interpretation of this play, never quite come together. Some individual performances rise above the routine. Skosyreva, with her renaissance face and Mona Lisa smile, seems very much a mix of the divine and the human in her scenes. Also impressive is Kondakov as he brings out the pointless but irrepressible hope of the naval officer who pines for an actress he plans to marry but never meets and then ends his days insisting that two times two is two. Ultimately, however, the unquestionable success of this show is in its conception rather than its execution, and that is true thanks largely to Kapelyush. Employing a series of mobile grids and a semi-transparent backdrop, his set creates a multitude of spatial planes, framing, highlighting or obscuring the action in horizontal and vertical layers. The severity, the functionality and the beauty of this “decoration” is a complete and welcome break with the cluttered illustrations we so often see in Moscow. “A Dream Play” may not work on all levels, but it is still a production of significance.