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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Romanovs' 'Last Night' Staged as Circus Farce

This Saturday night was to have been an important one in the world of Moscow theater. Well-known playwright and author Edvard Radzinsky had written his first new play in years, "Last Night of the Last Tsar," a drama about Nikolai II. And the BOGIS agency, sponsor of three award-winning productions in the last three years, had gathered an all-star ensemble including director Valery Fokin and composer Alexander Bakshi.

But, because of scheduling problems, theater-goers will now have to wait until Oct. 24. and will have a choice of only three of an original six performances at the Meridian Cultural Center. For once, the problem was not money, said Galina Bogolyubova, artistic producer with BOGIS.

It is possible more performances will be staged later in the season at the Manezh or in other Moscow venues, but as of now, there are no concrete plans, Bogolyubova said.

Despite the delays and unexpected complications, the sheer talent involved with "Last Night" is likely to make it one of the most talked about productions of this year's theatrical season. Such talent was a boon when it came to seeking sponsors.

"For 'Last Night' we contacted over 500 different organizations, but in the end, only one helped -- the Italian firm Ariston. Fokin, Bakshi, [choreographer Mikhail] Lavrovsky, [violinist Tatyana] Grindenko. These are the names that got us money for this production," said Bogolyubova.

"It is a long process to find money for projects; therefore, the agency doesn't do more than one production a year," she said.

Of those involved with the production, certainly the best known internationally is Radzinsky, whose long absence from the stage only heightens anticipation.

In a Wednesday interview, Radzinsky explained, "One of the reasons I started writing books and moved away from writing plays was that I wrote one play, another play was staged, and the audience saw yet a third."

The action in Radzinsky's original version takes place in Yekaterinburg where the Romanovs were held until their execution. The set consists of two rooms -- one where the tsar and his family are, and the second where their captors keep watch.

"It is a history of forgiveness. The tsar and his family were able to forgive, knowing what was going to happen to them," said Radzinsky. "Most important are their words, which have lived on after their deaths."

For his part, Fokin, a director known for his daring experiments, has adapted Radzinsky's play into a farce that takes place under a circus big top. In addition to the four original characters, there is Rasputin, the tsar's five children, five musicians, one percussionist as a circus clown and two other circus performers.

"I do not have the desire to present the situation as the bad Bolsheviks and the good tsar," said Fokin, 50, in a recent interview in his central Moscow office.

"To me the situation of the last night is a transition between eras. The situation is purely Russian. In one room sit the killers; in the other, the victims. The Bolsheviks don't just simply kill a family; at that moment they open a new era -- the 20th century -- and this moment is the last gasp of breath of the old era. And that is what this is -- a situation of borders. And it is these borders that I am always interested in."

Generally, Fokin's concept of drama has its foundation in a concept he calls "instrumental theater."

"In the past few years I have rarely staged plays," Fokin said, adding that he finds the old theatrical formulas stagnant. "I do not believe in words, they don't convince anybody of anything, and this is also true of words in the theater. We have to return meaning to words."

One way Fokin accomplishes this is through his longstanding collaboration with Bakshi, whose aesthetic approach to the staging of "Last Night" complements Fokin's.

"We were very interested in this situation," said Bakshi, 44, "not so much in the concrete history, as in the Russian myth about the murderous tsar who became a victim: a Shakespearean range of passions, Russian mythology, Russian situation, Russian times, presented not in a straightforward manner, but in circles."

"Last Night" is not a musical, but nevertheless music plays a vital role in Fokin and Bakshi's concept of theater.

"Usually composers write for musical instruments," Bakshi said, "I have one peculiarity -- I write for concrete performers, for people.

"What we are trying to accomplish moves away from both opera and dramatic theater. ... To us a play does not inherently contain a musical score. The addition of music is the addition of a new dramatic line. We build the music on top of the play, some of the words are spoken, some are not. They are played silently, purely musically. The violin becomes a character that is not in the original play, a new dramatic situation is added that changes the dramaturgy of the play."

Radzinsky said that on Oct. 24 he will see the results of these various approaches for the first time.

It is an event he is looking forward to, but he added with a smile: "In my play there are several ideas that if not included in this premiere would be absolutely harmful, and I hope that they are there. It will be most interesting when the audience, the actors and the director all come together at one time and create their 'third play.'

"This production is not just an artistic moment -- it is part of our collective consciousness, part of the air we breathe in this country."

"Last Night of the Last Tsar." October 24, 25 and 26 at 7 pm. at the Meridian Cultural Center, 61 Profsoyuznaya Ulitsa. Nearest Metro: Kaluzhskaya. For tickets and information, call 244-0344. Ticket prices: 50,000 to 120,000 rubles.