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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Unflagging Fun Permeates 'Cube'

One of the sensations that never flags throughout the Mossoviet Theater's new production of "A Cube for the President" is that this show is fun. There aren't many belly laughs, there is no singing, no dancing and no fancy costumes. So what makes the performance of this new comedy by Viktor Podlubny so entertaining?


Start with the actors in this breezy political spoof with a philosophical twist. They all have a knack for pigeonholing those typical human quirks that could drive anyone mad, while creating the kind of sympathetic portraits that brings you in firmly on their side.


And then there is Podlubny's play itself, simply written with a touch of "magic" to brighten things up.


Andrei Ilyin plays a seemingly blank, quietly stubborn but congenial young man who forces his way into the office of the chairman of the state committee on energy. He has an invention to show, and he's not about to be turned away.


As the Chairman, Nikolai Prokopovich is brusque and excusably arrogant until he sees what his visitor has brought: a tiny cube containing an inexhaustible supply of electric power.


He immediately realizes the implications of the invention and calls in the Minister of Energy (played by Alexander Pashutin), who calls in a prominent leftist politician (Valentina Kareva), who, in turn, calls in the President (Yevgeny Lazarev).


Podlubny's cube, more than just an engine for the plot, is a shrewd dramatic device. You find yourself believing in its power and potential to transform the world, and that faith pervades the atmosphere of the whole performance.


Under the direction of Pavel Khomsky, the cast plays it light and loose, soft-pedaling the purposeful incongruities and nearly ignoring the political parallels. It's no coincidence that Khomsky brought the show out as the Russian presidential election reaches its peak before Sunday's vote. But to his credit, he didn't ham-hand the obvious. As a result it's the human element that comes to the fore, rather than the social satire, and in the end, that even adds an extra pinch of pepper to the satire.


Pashutin is perfect as the minister who is so cocksure and condescending with inferiors and who grovels like a disoriented puppy when reporting to the president. You can't help but like this guy who thinks he's big stuff, but is nothing more than a figurehead.


Hovering over things from the start is the image of Yevgeny Lazarev's President. His enormous portrait hangs above the desk of the Chairman's secretary (Vera Kanshina), and when she hurriedly dusts it off before he arrives, she gives it a tender little kiss on the cheek.


Indeed, this guy turns out to be a personality-plus president. He is also a puppet of his security agents and a man who knows he has no real power.


All are terrified of what may happen. Forget that the inventor, who created the contraption while sitting in prison, is demanding billions of dollars and a promise that everyone who loses a job will get a new one. The president sees an uncontrollable revolution lurking in this cube, and suggests the inventor just give him a single unit for starters.


Enter Nemo (Anatoly Vasilyev), the top man in the power chain. A shady, but kindhearted character with worldwide and underworld ties, he is willing to meet the inventor's demands -- but to what ends? Not to buy the invention, but to get the young man to destroy his cube. The world is not ready for such a panacea to its problems.


"A Cube for the President," set in Enar Stenberg's design of a spacious, nondescript bureaucrat's office, is a casual, compassionate comedy that skillfully plays with topical themes but builds its appeal on the charm of its characters.





"A Cube for the President" (Kubik dlya prezidenta) plays Sunday and Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Mossoviet Theater stage "Pod Kryshei," 16 Bolshaya Sadovaya. Tel. 200-5943. Running time: 2 hours.





Critic's Notebook: On Tuesday, a playwriting laboratory conducted at the Chekhov Art Theater by the dramatist Vladimir Gurkin will display the results of workshop experiments on plays by Yelena Gremina (the author of the 1994 hit, "Behind the Mirror"), Alexander Seplyarsky and Ksenia Dragunskaya. The new group existed this year with the informal support of the Art Theater, which has indicated that it may be willing to produce one or more of the new plays if they should prove to be of interest.


Meanwhile, a similar group connected to Andrei Goncharov's combined directing/acting class at the Russian Academy of Theater Arts has scheduled a showing of its labors for June 26. Aided by the playwright Mikhail Ugarov, the students have devoted the entire year to trying out new plays by Ugarov, Dragunskaya and Ivan Savelyev. At the age of 20, Savelyev is younger than a good number of the students working on his play, but is already praised as a "star" by Ugarov.