Revolutionary Pelevin Story Reworked for Stage

Courtesy Of Otkryty MirThe two guards are no match for a shape-changing Lenin intent on entry.
In one Viktor Pelevin story, a Moscow bathroom attendant questions the meaning of life and accidentally summons a river of feces that drowns the city.

Self-awareness and self-examination often lead to disaster in the tales of one of Russia's most famous writers, as they are often set in the dark corners of humanity

"Khrustalny Mir," or "Crystal World," a short story Pelevin wrote in 1991 about two cadets in St. Petersburg guarding the Smolny Palace on the eve of the 1917 October Revolution, examines one of these corners with a chuckle and a sneer, imagining the start of Bolshevik power as the result of drug-addled young dreamers allowing Vladimir Lenin to creep into the palace.

It is a tale typical of Pelevin, where he asks philosophical questions hidden inside ironic fantasies.

"We chose this Pelevin short story because it in many ways reflects the questions on the minds of Russian youth," said executive producer Yevgeny Manzyrev. "His point of view on modernity is projected through the prism of past great events."

Courtesy Of Otkryty Mir
Crystal World, at the Vysotsky Theater, is a funny, dark tale of the Revolution.

Sergei Shchedrin's stage adaptation of the story, playing Thursday at the Vysotsky Theater, utilizes the author's sardonic tone but updates it with an electronic score by Mujuice (Moscow composer Roma Litvinov) and a video backdrop created by Yanuk Latushka.

The result is a consistently funny, albeit ultimately chilling take on the Revolution, blending the bells and whistles of a multimedia performance with the kinetic energy of a four-man cast.

Yury Kvyatkovsky and Alexei Rozin, as guards Yury and Nikolai, deliver sweaty, passionate performances, eliciting plenty of laughs from the audience while managing to respond to Litvinov's score at critical rhythmic points.

Left alone in the depths of night to guard the palace, Yury and Nikolai spend their evening snorting cocaine and discussing semantics.

Throughout the night, between their ramblings and substance-induced bouts of hallucination, they have to stop Lenin's (Ilya Barabanov) attempts to gain entry to the palace. Pelevin's story portrays Lenin as a shape-shifter; after being turned away by the guards in the form of a well-dressed man, he returns as a Japanese kabuki performer and a frightening invalid in a wheelchair, among other things.

The interactions between Yury, Nikolai and Lenin, as well as the guards' superior, Captain Prikhodov — performed by Pavel Misailov, who also plays various counterparts attempting to smuggle Lenin past the guards — all involve a great deal of physical comedy, and Litvinov's music in these sequences serves the action well.

Sampled military drums drive the tension of Yury and Nikolai's heated metaphysical exchanges; smooth bell tones usher in the psychedelic lighting and bleary-eyed pontifications of the guards' dreamlike drug sequences; and the ticking of a clock both introduces and closes the story, accompanied by a soft xylophone and the sound of ghostly, distorted wind.

Latushka's video, which runs throughout the play on a screen behind the actors, features old black-and-white images of St. Petersburg streets and occasionally introduces Lenin's approach with a figure creeping into view.

As the story ends, the characters exit the stage, the lights dim and images of what was to come after Lenin's success flicker on the screen: gulag, starving children, war and the smiling, pockmarked face of Stalin, which fades chillingly to end the production.

Vysotsky Theater plays at 7 p.m. Nov. 6, 3 Nizhny Tagansky tupik, 495-915-4558, M. Taganskaya.