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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Fools for Love: Botched Hopes and Bad Dreams

"Love is a thing that can never go wrong," wrote the American wit Dorothy Parker before adding sardonically, "and I am Marie of Roumania." Which brings us right to new productions at the Theater Yunogo Zritelya ("My Poor Balzaminov") and the Chekhov Art Theater ("The Evil Woman, or the Cry of the Dolphin"), where love is seldom a many-splendored thing.

Both shows also prove to varying degrees that the road to good theater is no less rocky.

In the case of "Balzaminov," a visually beautiful, dreamy look at the misadventures of one hopeless romantic's search for a soul mate, things get off to an enchanting start but descend into an aimless, overextended ending which nearly nullifies the pleasures of what has come before. As for the hapless "Evil Woman," it is a show with all the charm and style of a roach motel.

Gennady Trostyanetsky, a St. Petersburg director making his Moscow debut with "Balzaminov," took Alexander Ostrovsky's comic trilogy examining the awkward Misha Balzaminov's search for a bride and honed them down into a single, three-part work. Illustrating the way that time escapes the luckless hero, Trostyanetsky cast three progressively older actors in the lead role, while he pointed to the oneness of Balzaminov's desire by having the same actresses trade back and forth the roles of his intended brides and their best girlfriendsn

The youngest Balzaminov, as played by Alexander Kovrizhnykh, is a dancing, lilting, innocent pup, not prepared for the harsh ways of the world. His "successor" (Vyacheslav Platonov) is heavier, more beaten down, more limited and yet still clinging, foolishly perhaps, to his bright hopes of youth. The elder Balzaminov (Vladimir Salnikov), resigned and quietly desperate, seems to have lost all but a glimmer of faith that love is real.

Natalya Shipunova and Natalya Sotnikova, alternating as the women who attract Misha's attention, are in turns frivolous flirts, cruel femmes fatales, and aggressive, gum-chewing, rap-singing modern Moscow chicks.

The show's atmosphere of wonder and fantasy is echoed in the elevated, balletic movements of the key actors, in Svetlana Logofet's spectacular, colorful costumes, and in Mart Kitayev's strangely splendid set, with its hundreds of hanging paper flowers occasionally lighting up from inside to create a kind of fairytale jungle. In rare moments of harmony, the characters unexpectedly even for themselves slip from common conversation into operatic singing.

But despite its beauty and Trostyanetsky's imaginative approach, "Balzaminov" grinds to a rough halt. The clarity and simplicity of the early segments dissipate in the long, chaotic finale which brings all three heroes together in a confusing and badly paced maelstrom of dreams and inner monologues.

The dreams, or more properly the nightmares, of "The Evil Woman" are drug-induced. Yura (Sergei Shkalikov) and Sasha (Konstantin Chepurin) mix champagne, marijuana and cocaine while falling in love with a mousy call-girl (Yevgenia Dobrovolskaya). They see all kinds of hallucinations outside their apartment window before Yura shoots Sasha, maybe by accident, and then jumps out the window to his death.

Ivan Okhlobystin's inept new play, abounding in drunk jokes, lowlifers, bawdy Cossacks and thugs in business suits, careens mindlessly across the surface of 1990s Russia. Director Mikhail Yefremov, apparently lacking other ideas, has his actors noisily slam around the movable pieces of Yevgeny Mitta's set, substituting onslaught for insight.

There is one minor miracle in this strikingly bad production: Yevgenia Dobrovolskaya rises from the rubble like a Phoenix. No one could save this wreck of a show, but Dobrovolskaya, tender, funny and sensitive, seems utterly untouched by the rampant vapidity lapping at her like flames from all sides.

"My Poor Balzaminov" (Moi bedny Balzaminov) plays March 13, 21 and 26 at 7 p.m. at the Theater Yunogo Zritelya, 10 Mamonovsky Pereulok. Tel. 299-5360. Running time: 3 hours, 20 mins. "The Evil Woman, or the Cry of the Dolphin" (Zlodeika, ili krik delfina) plays March 17 and 31 at 6 p.m. at the Chekhov Art Theater, 3 Kamergersky Pereulok. Tel. 229-8760. Running time: 1 hour, 30 mins.