Lydia in Moscow

Lydia, a junior President’s Scholar majoring in theatre studies in Meadows School of the Arts and Spanish in Dedman College, is spending fall 2010 in Moscow, where she is studying with the Moscow Art Theater.

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Checking in

Why, hello, world wide web. How are you?

I wrote the following post a week and a half ago, but I think it still merits posting. It has taken me a while to finish it as things have been crazy busy as ever here!

Lydia.bmp The past week was one of the most hectic weeks of my experience in Moscow thus far. On top of having classes Saturday through Saturday, I saw five different shows: Dostoevsky’s “The Idiot” (Saturday), “Othello” (Monday), Bulgakov’s “White Guard” (Wednesday), “King Lear” (Thursday) and a show called “Masquerade” (Friday). I must admit I was rather ready for a break from the theater come this past Saturday evening. With little time to reflect on what I have seen, it becomes difficult to separate each of the shows into the very unique and individual experiences/reactions they provoke. I want to take some time to reflect on each of them.

I have already discussed “The Idiot,” so I will not spend too much time dwelling on this particular show. But I do want to add that it was one of the most visually stunning performances I have ever seen. The idea of “Director’s Theater” is very strong here: the notion that the director can take a text and do pretty much whatever he wants with it. In the States we have for the most part moved away from director’s theater and into playwright’s theater; all artistic decisions made by director, actor, designer, etc. must be grounded in the text. Obviously productions will vary in the approach they take, but director’s theater lends itself to a lot of decisions made not necessarily because they make sense, but sometimes merely because they are beautiful.

As a foreigner who speaks only chut chut pa Russki (a little bit of Russian), I am of course limited in just how much of the text I can even understand, but symbolism transcends linguistic barriers. And though I may still not entirely understand why the particular artistic choice was made, I am still moved by it, and my thoughts are aroused. Suddenly huge swinging doors and mirrors and plates smashed into the stage floor and the repeated dance-like choreography of one character stabbing the woman he loves touch me and I “get” the general gist of the story. Director’s theater may not always be true to the text, but it is stunning to watch.

“Othello” was another example of director’s theater. Huge sailor hammocks hanging from the catwalks doubled as the sails of the ship and the clouds that hang over the island on which Shakespeare’s characters find themselves. Two men dressed somewhat like sheep shook enormous water containers throughout the show such that the sound of waves was always present, and the director never let you forget that you were near the ocean. At one point Desdemona was running back and forth between two chairs here and Othello’s, and though it may not make sense in my description here, it worked brilliantly onstage.

There were so many little details that are beginning to escape me because I did not record them soon enough. But let’s just say that while this show was quite striking, it was not necessarily compelling. I loved the production values, and the acting was quite good, but the end was rough – it was also the most self-indulgent Othello suicide I have ever seen. It took 45 minutes for him to kill himself after he suffocated Desdemona, and those 45 minutes were filled with flower pots, and little toy ships, and lots of beautiful images, but the power of the plot was lost in the overkill use of symbolism. There must be a balance between the two.

whiteguard.bmp I absolutely loved MXAT’s production of “White Guard.” I believe that this is the show that I have understood the most of all of the shows that I have seen thus far in Moscow. The music simmered in with a soft melody reminiscent of a jewelry box, and hung in the air for half a minute before the curtain slowly opened to reveal an off-kilter ramp stretching up stage left and down stage right. On the right stood chairs, tables, candlesticks; and on the right, the emptiness of uncertainty. Snow fell. And the snow-globe-like atmosphere led us into a story of love and revolution.

The acting was spectacular. The main actress was so strong and feminine at the same time, and the handsome man who courted her with his comedy and dire need for her love captured my affections as well. Although I suppose I am not the first person to fall in love with a MXAT actor, I am pretty sure that that is a normal occurrence. The chemistry between these two actors was tangible, and all of the other actors who lived within the world of comedy and tragedy, hope and fear completely and totally committed themselves to the world that I could see from my little seat in the aisle. All of the jokes about vodka were entertaining too. Those I understood! I desperately want to find a copy of this play in English, because it is brilliant. Someday perhaps I will be able to read it in Russian as well. Ultimately this was a story of worlds in the balance, lives clinging to those most dear, losing them anyways, and moving on with hope. It was hilarious, compelling, inspiring, and tragic all at once. I LOVED it.

The good words of my fellow classmates led me into “King Lear” with high expectations, which truth be told were not entirely met or unmet. This production at the Satirikon theater was another example of director’s theater, and with the exception of Rikon, a famous Russian actor and MXAT teacher who played Lear, I was not all that impressed with the actors. There were good moments, but I felt they were stuck between too many attempts at being edgy or original.

It’s always hard to judge considering the very important fact that I do not really speak Russian and cannot always understand the juxtaposition of certain vocal and physical choices with the text, which, if were I able to understand them, might suddenly become pure genius to me. But, nevertheless, this production did not inspire much in me, neither disappointment or excitement. I came away from it feeling slightly bland.

Dead tired and with no desire to see a show, much less walk all the way to the Vakhtangov theater in the bleak cold wind, I found myself seated at the back of the house with my head not against the wall where I thought it would be (asleep) but rather enraptured with the performance of Lermontov’s “Masquerade.” The circular stage was covered with “snow,” and snow was falling from the catwalks above the stage, and I felt like a little girl back in Colorado in the middle of winter. The story of the play itself I did not entirely understand, but it was BEAUTIFUL. And SO FUN!! One of the actors who played the “fool” of sorts spent the first 20 minutes rolling up, slowly but surely, a large snowball, and at the end of the play the audience got what they had been waiting for – the biggest snowball they had ever seen! The size of a large truck!

The actors shoved a “dead man” down a hole at the end of the stage like they were putting him in the icy cold water, but he kept bobbing back up! Finally they had to tie a statue to him to get his body to sink. After her death, the main actress who was in pointe shoes the entire show (and she was exquisite) replaced the statue, took its position and froze in place, as if the snow had crystallized her for eternity.

I am finding it difficult to put into words a decent summary of the many images that have such potent effect in so instant a moment. The show was lovely. It’s another that I really want to read in English and maybe someday in Russian too. I am glad that in spite of my weariness, I went to the theater :^)

Well, there’s that for a little bit of checking in on shows. I have seen some others since then, one in particular that needs discussing, but more on that later. All right, world wide web, I am going to write some more posts. I hope you are satisfied with this one.

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