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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Et Cetera Opens Home With 'Lady'

The Et Cetera Theater, founded by the popular actor Alexander Kalyagin, has been drifting in and out of focus since 1993. Its first foray was a run-of-the-mill version of Anton Chekhov's "Uncle Vanya," and it followed that with several equally tepid dramas and comedies based on writers as diverse as Eugene O'Neill and Moliere.

The homeless troupe performed infrequently, usually renting out other theater's stages for a few days every couple of months.

Finally the Et Cetera's wandering days are over. Kalyagin and his crew recently held a coming-out party for their own new stage, a nicely appointed spread on the second floor of one of those drab, boxy high-rises on Novy Arbat. The means of celebration was the premiere of a new show, George Bernard Shaw's one-act play, "The Dark Lady of the Sonnets," and there were plenty of cognoscenti on hand to help celebrate.

What was lacking was a sign that the Et Cetera has grown artistically along with its repertoire. Instead, "The Dark Lady of the Sonnets" is another in the venue's unwavering line of professional, but undistinguished outings.

Kalyagin is a fine actor. He is natural and he has charisma. I suspect he could jump up out of a dead sleep and flawlessly pull off a comic routine. As Shaw's version of Shakespeare in the story of an unexpected nocturnal meeting between the Bard and Queen Elizabeth, Kalyagin goes beyond that, but not by much. Frankly, there wasn't much further for him to go.

Shaw's playlet, written in 1910, is a piece of social do-gooding that was intended to drum up support for the British national theater. It tells the tale of Shakespeare convincing a simpleton sentry (Igor Zolotovitsky) to let him meet with his lover and muse, the Dark Lady (Yekaterina Rednikova), winding up instead in the embraces of the Queen (Tatyana Vladimirova). After some haughty bantering and posing, the two titans get down to philosophy and agree that culture deserves the state's support.

"Dark Lady" displays reflections of the usual Shavian wit, as the writer, greedy for eloquent locutions, copies down in his notebook every felicitous phrase his interlocutors utter. But there is no getting around it; this is a play of minor importance. I can imagine a makeshift performance coming off perfectly as a lead-in to the keynote address at a theater society convention. As the vehicle launching the Et Cetera's new home, it was a strange choice. The irony grows when you consider that the theater originally began as a private house, but fell back under the protection of the city budget two years ago. (During the curtain calls Mayor Luzhkov got the requisite "thank you" for helping the theater acquire the new stage.)

Director Roman Kozak sought to enliven the trifling piece, but came up short. Using a small platform at the far stage-left end of the auditorium, he added a farcical prologue from Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing" of Benedick (Kalyagin) and Beatrice (Vladimirova) in the throes of a knockabout love battle. The episode shows off Maria Danilova's colorful 17th-century costumes well, although it never seems more than an appendage crudely grafted onto the central play.

The cast generally acquits itself well, but there is no lift, no buoyancy, no real purpose to this gathering. This lack is also apparent in Yekaterina Kuznetsova's pleasantly functional set: an astro-turf covered courtyard with a blooming tree and a working fountain against a backdrop of the Queen's arched, elevated walkway.

"The Dark Lady of the Sonnets" (Smuglaya Ledi Sonetov) plays Oct. 11 at 6 p.m., Oct. 15 and 22 at 7 p.m. at the Et Cetera Theater, 11 Novy Arbat, 2nd floor. Tel. 291-5170. Running time: 1 hour, 40 mins.

CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK: The production of "Teibele and Her Demon" at the Chekhov Art Theater continues to be star-crossed.

The first blow came in August when Yelena Maiorova, the fine actress who played the title role, committed suicide.

After a period of indecision about what to do with the production, director Vyacheslav Dolgachyov and artistic director Oleg Yefremov decided to keep it in repertoire as a tribute to Maiorova's memory. They invited the actress Oksana Mysina to take over the lead. Mysina is best known for her performance in Kama Ginkas' production of "K.I. from 'Crime'" at the Theater Yunogo Zritelya.

The reopener, scheduled for Thursday as a special evening honoring Maiorova, sold out as soon as it was announced, but then things began unravelling again. During a Sept. 30 run-through on the Art Theater's main stage, the actor Vyacheslav Nevinny fell through an open trapdoor and tumbled 10 feet in a free fall. The actor, who is 63 and suffers from diabetes, incurred multiple injuries, including seven broken ribs, a broken shoulder blade and a punctured lung.

The show will go on, says the director, but time will be needed to bring in a new actor to take the place of Nevinny until he recovers. He is expected to be out for six months. The reopener is now set for Nov. 6.