. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Georgians Play Explosive 'Macbeth'

When the Rustaveli Theater plays Shakespeare's "Macbeth" at the Vakhtangov Theater on Wednesday, it will be the acclaimed Georgian venue's first Moscow appearance since June 1994. The biggest difference is that two years ago the Rustaveli was in residence for a whole month, while this time it has come for just a single performance as part of the Second Chekhov International Theater Festival.

Most everything else, however, will be the same. The power, the excitement, the scintillating young actors in the leads (Zaza Papuashvili and Nino Kasradze as Macbeth and his Lady), and the same Robert Sturua at the helm.

Sturua somehow doesn't look like one of the world's greater theater directors. Maybe it's his kind, sad-sack eyes, maybe it's the short, plump stature, or maybe it's his soft-spoken, almost self-effacing nature. But some sort of rumbling, rattling transformation must go on when this guy closes the doors behind him and sets to rehearsing with his actors.

How else do you explain all those intense, explosive productions that seem as much a punch to the solar plexus as a feast for the eye and mind?

The Rustaveli Theater from Tbilisi is Georgia's cultural calling card, the No. 1 theater in a country with a relatively short, but extraordinarily powerful theatrical tradition. Throughout most of the 20th century, Georgians have freely intermingled in the Russian theater process, bringing with them a remarkable intensity and physicality, as well as assimilating the influence of Russia's classical strengths.

The Rustaveli, named for Shota Rustaveli, the great national poet of the 12th century, was founded in 1921. Its first leader was Kote Mardzhanishvili, an actor and director who spent the first 30 years of his career working in Russian under the Russianized name of Konstantin Mardzhanov. From 1910 to 1913, he was even a staff director under Konstantin Stanislavsky at the Moscow Art Theater.

But the most lasting mark was probably left by the mercurial and tragic figure of Sandro Akhmeteli. After taking over the theater in 1926, this bold, innovative artist developed a dynamic, visual style that echoed the spirited, expressive Georgian nature. In the nine short years before he was arrested and shot, Akhmeteli laid the foundation for modern Georgian theater.

Sturua, who has worked a good deal in Russia, is clearly an artistic descendant of both Mardzhanishvili and Akhmeteli. His actors take the stage like the wind before a storm. Their loping, swinging, fluid movements combine with the melodious Georgian language to create a tactile impression of a stream running through a rocky, Caucasian mountain pass.

Not unlike Akira Kurosawa, the renowned Japanese filmmaker who so effortlessly reinvents the classics of foreign literature as definitions of his own culture, Sturua is a director of international scope with a national vision. His productions of Bertolt Brecht's "The Caucasian Chalk Circle" and "The Good Person of Setzuan," shown here in 1994, were sweeping, universal statements on Georgian problems and the Georgian way of life. If the advance notices are to be believed, "Macbeth" will continue that tradition.

The troupe at the Rustaveli must be considered among the world's most accomplished and disciplined, epitomizing the idea of ensemble acting. Every part from lead to walk-on is handled with the same conviction and precision. But, that said, watch for the electrifying team of Papuashvili and Kasradze. Playing the female lead in "The Good Person of Setzuan" in 1994, Kasradze had lovesick Moscow admirers scribbling declarations of devotion to her on the walls along the Arbat.

Sturua and his actors create performances that cross all barriers of language and culture. If you know "Macbeth" is the story of a weak but ambitious general encouraged by his grimly decisive wife to murder his king and seize the crown, you know all you need to know to be caught up in this modern Georgian version of ancient Scottish political intrigue.

"Macbeth," a production of the Rustaveli Theater, plays in Georgian with Russian translation through headphones on Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Vakhtangov Theater, 26 Arbat. Tickets available at the Vakhtangov box office (241-1679) or the International Confederation of Theater Associations, 21/1 Leontyevsky Pereulok (929-7074 or 929-7070).