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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Pint-Size Saga of Epic Proportions

I am happy to thank the people at the just-completed Golden Mask festival for one especially great hour of theater-going.


Various words of praise for the Moscow Shadow Theater's puppet show, "The Tour of the Lilikan Grand Royal Theater in Russia," had been reaching me for some time, but for some inexcusable reason I hadn't found my way to see it. Had this -- I would actually call it a puppet event -- not been nominated for three Golden Mask awards (it won a best director award for Ilya Epelbaum), who knows when I might have gotten around to it?


More to the point now is, when will I get back to see it again? Because this is something, a little like a microscopic Disneyland, that you want to do over and over. And since it's almost short enough to squeeze into a lunch break, there's no reason why you shouldn't.


The puppet performance itself, a Wagnerian swirl of legend, passion, treachery, fidelity and death, only runs about half an hour. It is the culmination -- or maybe, actually, the punch line -- of the show, but it is only a part of what creator Ilya Epelbaum is up to. Things actually begin the moment you enter the door leading down a long, mysterious, winding corridor into what seems the bowels of the earth, and the end comes only when you re-emerge into the sunlight an hour later.


Epelbaum, with his wife, Maya Krasnopolskaya, created an entire world. And within that world, he created an event worthy of our attention: a theatrical tour from the land of Lilikania, where the people are so small that when their beloved actors perform abroad, they take the whole theater and all its spectators with them.


As Krasnopolskaya says before the show begins, "There are 2,012 seats in the theater, but since 2,000 are already taken up by Lilikans, only 12 of us can fit in the hall." She explains that the performance we are about to see will be in the Lilikan language with simultaneous translation into Russian, although the actors have learned Russian well enough to perform the finale in Russian.


When we are finally ushered into the foyer of the Lilikan Grand Royal Theater, we have already exchanged our rubles for lils, the Lilikan currency which allows us to buy tiny programs and visit the minuscule buffet which serves drinks in cups smaller than thimbles and open-faced sandwiches smaller than the nail on your little finger. We have, by this time, read all the Lilikan slogans pasted on the walls, such as, "All the world's a stage and all Lilikans are merely players!"


The foyer of the Lilikan Grand Royal Theater is breathtaking in its scope and detail. This is a walk-through dollhouse to beat all dollhouses. In addition to fascinating, extraordinarily detailed displays of miniature tea services, historical weapons, children's drawings and the "largest painting in Lilikan history," we are treated to a four-screen puppet film of the history of Lilikania.


We learn how in ancient times these people were so talented they lived exclusively by art, considering the ingestion of food vulgar. Those idyllic years, however, ended when Lilikania was invaded by a nation of monsters, midgets whose size surpassed that of the average Lilikan by 100 times. Only after centuries of struggle and slavery were the Lilikans able to free themselves, in part with the aid of a great, all-inundating flood.


In modern times the pride of the Lilikan nation is its theater. Just before curtain time, we take our seats in the ornate hall, surrounded by 2,000 Lilikans in evening wear packing the balconies on all sides. The conductor raises his baton and the Lilikan orchestra strikes up the first chords of the music to "Two Trees," the most beloved work in Lilikan theater history.


This is the story of the tragic love between a king and a princess who overcome the interference of an evil midget and a desert fairy to find eternal happiness after death as two trees growing side by side. In the miniature Lilikan fashion, even the Princess' central aria -- her expression of pain when she comes to believe her love has deceived her -- is only two lines long: "Oh God, he is unfaithful! My soul laments!"


There is no lamenting the magical hour spent at this delightful, ingenious immersion in a fantasy world. May the Lilikan Grand Royal Theater reign forever in Moscow.





"The Tour of the Lilikan Grand Royal Theater in Russia" (Gastroli Lilikanskogo Bolshogo Korolevskogo Teatra v Rossii) plays four times every Saturday and Sunday at the Shadow Theater affiliate, "The Lilikan Cultural Center in Moscow," at the back entrance to 5 Begovaya Ulitsa. For reservations call 281-1516, 281-3590, 391-1422. April tickets sold out; May reservations now being taken. (Go around the left side of the building to the narrow parking lot in the back. The well-marked entrance is the first basement door from the end of the building.) Running time: 1 hour.