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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Superb Acting Revives A Theatrical Wasteland

The Maly Drama Theater's marathon eight-hour stage adaptation of "The Possessed," Dostoyevsky's most difficult and painful novel, may sound more like a test of endurance than entertainment. For me, however, the performance was not only a gratifying artistic experience but the rediscovery of a real living theater in my city.

I had almost given up hope. Drama theaters have suffered a disheartening decline in St. Petersburg over the years. The dinosaurs of the so-called "academic" establishment theater seem to be all but extinct in their dogmatic conservatism and lack of creativity. With the expulsion of Zinovy Korogodsky from the Children's Theater, the death of Georgy Tovstonogov of BDT, the slow fade-out of Igor Vladimirov's Otkryty (former Lensoveta) Theater and the fossilization of the Alexandrinsky, the professional scene looks a nearly total wasteland. The scene at a burgeoning number of small theaters and studios is not much more exciting. Some have split from major companies only to perpetuate the creative impotence of their mother institutions. Others, mostly semi-amateur, are desperately lacking in the basic craft of acting.

The scene has been so uninspiring that I can barely remember making a couple of hesitant theater outings over the last few years. As it turned out, I was missing an opportunity to see the Maly Drama Theater, a fully professional company led by Lev Dodin. A few years ago it delivered a stirring presentation of Fedor Abramov's kolkhoz epic "Brothers and Sisters," then almost entirely vanished into an eternal circle of touring -- Europe, Japan, North and South America -- earning a worldwide reputation. With all the success abroad, the theater has not been very visible in St. Petersburg. The few weeks in September that they spent at home in their small theater in Ulitsa Rubinsteina offered a true theatrical rediscovery.

Dodin's style -- clever, rapid and piercing -- is rich and inventive without being indulgent. It best fits the provocative literary foundation of his productions. The most recent premiere, "Claustrophobia," is based on the newest Russian prose of Vladimir Sorokin, Venedict Erofeev, Mark Kharitonov and Ludmila Ulitskaya. Even post-glasnost audiences, accustomed to all sorts of bitter extravaganza, are stunned by the pungent candidness of metaphoric imagery in portraying the absurdities of our existence. Dodin, 50, is a rare example of an artist who is both mature and fresh, both innovative and balanced. After a short spell at home the theater sets off for another season of touring.

In the meantime the city's theatrical studios are getting ready for another celebration of independence: the Free Arts Festival at Baltiysky Dom Oct. 21 to 23.