A Stage Filled With Clowns, But Not A Circus

International House Of Music
It's the story of a family of six, struggling to make ends meet. They say not a word as they go about their daily business but still express joy and unhappiness in their interactions and at times even break into mysterious, halting dances.

Oh -- and they're all clowns.

"It's a story of love, hate, irony, sarcasm, poetry," described Boris Petrushansky, artistic director of the tragi-comic troupe known as "Litsedei." "It's about what all of us experienced in families in our childhood."

The name of the raggedly dressed company from St. Petersburg that performs this farce is from an obsolete Russian word for "actors" but also means "hypocrites." Litsedei, a veteran ensemble, has toured the world to much acclaim and will ham it up at the Moscow International House of Music nightly with its show "Semyanuki" until Nov. 19.

"'Semyanuki' is a succession of short, surrealistic scenes that sentimentalize the everyday life of a Russian family," said one admiring French critic when the show successfully debuted at the Avignon Theater Festival.

The show, whose name is a nonsense word that means something like "family members," follows the extremely animated lives of a Russian household -- the maniacal humor of an alcoholic father, the stumblings of an obscenely obese mother and the high-flying antics of their four progeny, who scribble mathematical formulas, play imaginary accordions and generally terrorize everyone else on stage. At times, the performance space buzzes with activity, creating almost a din, only to be followed by eerie lulls.

International House Of Music
The Litsedei troupe plays a farcical family in the acclaimed "Semyanuki."
In taking viewers through an ocean of emotion, the clowns of the show use a wide-reaching fleet of performance techniques, using practically every part of their bodies except for their vocal chords.

In addition to the typical pantomime, dance and acrobatics, the six-person team from Litsedei throws in choreographed disco moves and, most engaging and occasionally frightening of all, audience participation. At one performance of "Semyanuki" this year in Macau, for instance, a little boy became so involved that when the actor who plays the father tried to leave the stage after a scene, the child pushed him right back to where he was, forcing the father to improvise.

Such events are standard fare when the curtains open on Litsedei.

Founded by one of Russia's most famous clowns, Vyacheslav Polunin, in Leningrad in 1968, Litsedei has built up an emotional repertoire in over 40 years of performing. In its current form, the "Semyanuki" show has had time to mature, going on its third year of tours that have taken its players across the globe, from Brazil and the United States to New Zealand, Vietnam and much of Western and Eastern Europe.

"The reactions are often similar everywhere we go," Petrushansky noted. "We tend to get people energized from the very beginning, and in the finale the entire audience stands, and there is always a reluctance to have the actors leave. We even do a special bit after the performers go on and off stage a few times in which they act as though they're getting tired and just want to sleep and urge viewers to vacate the theater more quickly. This typically goes on for half an hour before people finally start leaving."

"Semyanuki" will run every night until Nov. 19, except Nov. 17, at the International House of Music, 52 Kosmodamianskaya Naberezhnaya, bldg. 8. M. Paveletskaya. 730-1011. www.mmdm.ru.