. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Radiant Star in a Monster's Role

There is nothing new in the notion that ideas float in the air, so it probably should come as no surprise that in less than a year, Moscow has seen three productions of "Sacred Monsters," Jean Cocteau's comfortably forgotten melodrama written in 1940.

There is a typically zippety-bang version at the dinky Theater Na Yugo-Zapade; a rarely played, hurriedly put-together show by the Viktyuk Theater; and now a moderately slick, moderately comical show at the Satire Theater.

The latter production, directed perfunctorily by Alexander Vilkin, would be of little interest were it not for one thing: It stars the radiant Vera Vasilyeva as Esther, an aging star of the stage locked in battle with a young actress who is ready to take Esther's place in her public's hearts and her husband's bed.

The production is a showcase for the popular actress, who turned 70 last fall. And well it should be, since this is an actress worth showcasing.

Strangely enough, Vasilyeva's heartwarming performance in "Sacred Monsters" is her first new outing in eight years on her home stage at the Satire Theater. This venue, whose popularity peaked 20 years ago, has long been drifting, fueled by the considerable energy of past successes. In Vasilyeva's case, that has meant in recent times that she hasn't even been able to buy new work in the house where she has toiled since 1948.

To keep in shape, she has done what few actors, let alone stars of her magnitude, would even consider: She has gone as far afield as the provincial cities of Oryol and Tver to perform in their local theaters. She still keeps those shows running by commuting to the hinterlands regularly.

Vasilyeva broke her Moscow drought earlier this season, accepting an invitation to play in the Novy Drama Theater's sprightly production of "The Ball." "Sacred Monsters," though falling far short of that energetic show, at least gives Vasilyeva the chance to play something she knows inside and out: a talented, experienced Woman of the Theater.

Cocteau's monsters are of course actors, spoiled people used to dissembling and getting praised for it. They are sacred because their sense of play and make-believe gives them a childlike quality which, like spiritual cleanliness, brings them closer to godliness.

At the Satire Theater this is served up under the cover of a bedroom melodrama. When Esther realizes that Liane (Natalya Karpunina) has turned the head of her actor husband (Yury Avsharov), she takes the bull by the horns and invites the girl to live with them. Esther's partner Charlotte (Nina Feklisova), who was eyeing Esther's husband herself, is shocked by her friend's tolerance.

Indeed, Esther soon finds herself odd woman out and abandons her home -- and starring roles -- to the cynical usurper. When she makes her comeback, it is one worthy of a grand lady and actress.

Avsharov, with his cavernous eyes and Victor Mature good looks, is convincing in his three-pronged role: the silly oaf blinded by young beauty, the husband who loves his wife, the actor who can distinguish between talent and bluff. But, excepting one fine scene from Feklisova, there is really only one thing to watch in this show: Vera Vasilyeva.

Dazzling in Dina Mogilnitskaya's spectacular costumes, Vasilyeva oozes charm and wisdom. She is the quintessential "star," teasingly inviting spectators to visit her dressing room, and the ultimate woman: decisive, proud and understanding.

Vasilyeva has been in better surroundings in her career, but, like the actress's actress she is, in "Sacred Monsters" she is an artist with a capital "A."

"Sacred Monsters" (Svyashchenniye Chudovishcha) plays March 8 and 20 at 7 p.m. at the Satire Theater, 2 Triumfalnaya Ploshchad. Tel. 299-6305. Running time: 2 hours, 45 mins.