"Golden Mask Incorporated" Bursting at the Seams

Courtesy Ziedonis SafronovsMaria Krapivina's play "Stavanger," as performed by the Liepaja Drama Theater, is one of the first events of the New Play segment of the Golden Mask Festival.

You thought you knew the Golden Mask Festival. You know, that three-week extravaganza every spring that shows off the best that Russian theater has to offer? The one that ends with figurative fireworks and a glitzy award ceremony somewhere in the middle of April?

Well, that's all still there, and that will happen, and we'll have plenty of opportunity yet to write about it.

But what we might call "Golden Mask, Inc.," these days reminds me of that facetious Octopus Corporation that used to be in the cartoons I watched as a kid — a company that has tentacles reaching out in all kinds of directions, doing all kinds of things.

If you go onto the project page of the festival's website you will see what I mean — a whole array of mini-festivals that run before or parallel to the traditional Golden Mask offerings. These include the New Play festival, the Mask Plus festival, which brings in shows from around Russia and the world, the Russian Case showcase for foreigners, the Legendary Shows and Names project and more.

Things get underway Sunday with the first showings of the New Play program and it holds sway until March 10 when the first of the Mask Plus productions begins.

Mikhail Ugarov's modern adaptation of Mikhail Lermontov's "The Masquerade" is on display Sunday at 3 p.m. at the Playwright and Director Center, while Marina Krapivina's "Stavenger (Pulp People)," in a production by the Liepaja Drama Theater of Latvia, plays at 7 p.m. at the Meyerhold Center.  

From there on out, every day will be at least as full, if not more so. Monday features two performances of "The Youth from the Right Bank," a documentary project put together by the company of the Theater Yunogo Zritelya in Krasnoyarsk, and one performance of "Stavanger."

Perhaps the highlight of New Play begins on Tuesday with a project called Repost, run by the people at Teatr.doc, who in the last decade have made the development and support of new writing a respected profession in Moscow. Unlike the Russian drama-based Lyubimovka festival, which Teatr.doc runs in the fall, Repost presents works by contemporary foreign authors that in some way deal with controversial social issues. From Tuesday to Thursday, the theater will host the staged readings of plays from Britain, the Czech Republic, Germany, Canada, Finland and Mexico.

Britain will be represented on day one by Noah Birksted-Breen and Christine Bacon, whose play "On the Record" explores six journalists whose work daily puts them in harm's way. The piece is built on interviews conducted with reporters living and working in Sri Lanka, Russia, the United States, Mexico and Israel.

"We interviewed all the people (all real life journalists) and felt that what they had to say was so immediate, humorous and truthful, that we wanted to give that straight to audiences — interweaving their testimonies, to capture similarities and differences between them," co-author Birksted-Breen wrote to me by email. "As we went through, we also began to dramatize certain scenes — to bring to life the (often amazing or terrifying) experiences the journalists have had, in their quest for the truth."

No sooner does the dust settle following the final event of the New Play project on March 10, than the Mask Plus mini-festival kicks into gear. Beginning March 11, it runs to March 28, well after the start of competition segment of the Golden Mask Festival.

Mask Plus this year features eight productions by various far-flung Russian theaters, and productions from U.S.-based Double Edge Theater in Ashfield, MA, and the Klockrike Theater in Helsinki, Finland. Both shows have close connections to Russian theater.

Double Edge on March 17 at the Meyerhold Center presents "The Grand Parade," which was inspired by the paintings of Marc Chagall and premiered just a month ago at the Arena Stage in Washington, D.C. Original music for the piece, which is highly physical and includes aerial and other acrobatics, was written by Russian composer Alexander Bakshi.

Klockrike Theater offers up a rendition of Anton Chekhov's "Uncle Vanya," staged by the prominent Ukrainian/Russian director Andrii Zholdak at the Meyerhold Center on March 27 and 28.

Mask Plus also provides the rare opportunity for Moscow spectators to see productions touring from Khanty-Mansiisk, Vladikavkaz, Kirov and other Russian cities.

Some, like the Ostrovsky Drama Theater of Kostroma, with its interpretation of Alexander Ostrovsky's "The Storm" at the Theater of Nations on March 14, will present new takes on the classics. Others, such as the Theater on Spasskaya Square in Kirov, with two performances of "The Visible Side of Life" at the Theater Center Na Strastnom on March 15, will stretch theatrical boundaries. This latter show presents the poetry of Yelena Shvarts, a major figure in the underground cultural world of Leningrad in the 1970s and 1980s.

In short, if you have nothing else to do with your life for the next seven weeks, just let the Golden Mask festival conglomerate bring you a whole world of theater.


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