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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

'Moscow Nest' Weighs Itself Down

"A Moscow Nest" at the Mossoviet Theater marks the return of Leonid Zorin, who was once one of this city's most popular playwrights.

Zorin's works, numbering well over 30, began appearing with "Youth" (1949) and "The Guests" (1954) and continued through "A Warsaw Melody" (1967) and "The Tsar's Hunt" (1974). Since the mid-1980s, Zorin has written little for the stage and has been produced even less.In Moscow, an old production of "The Tsar's Hunt" continues to run at the Mossoviet Theater, and a weak revival of "A Warsaw Melody" was mounted last year at the Pushkin Theater.

"A Moscow Nest," directed by Vyacheslav Dolgachyov, is Zorin's first new play produced here in the 1990s. It tells of Yelena and her two step-daughters as they try to come to terms with life in modern Russia. The symbol of their world breaking down is the death of Yelena's husband, the girls' father. He was a famous writer and, for the women, a moral foundation. His loss means they must reappraise their attitudes toward themselves and others.

Zorin sought to write a modern intellectual drama, to create an X-ray of the tremors that have shaken the intelligentsia in the post-Soviet period. Thus the picture is filled out with various male admirers and lovers running the gamut from "old-style" scholarly types in stretched-out sweaters to a gorilla-size deal-maker in a snazzy suit.

But this play is so schematic and idea-heavy it never comes to life. Each character is a stand-in for some problem typical of the Russian 1990s.

There is the youngest daughter, the crass, budding yellow journalist Sofia (Zhanna Buryagina), and the elder Maria (Irina Bryuzgina), a thoughtful young woman who risks mixing business and culture by taking over a foundation named for her father. Their stepmother (Yevgenia Kryukova), who is barely older than they are, is torn between carrying on an affair with the arrogant young Ratmir (Vladimir Timoshenko) or marrying her late husband's rumpled but wise old colleague Mantsev (Anatoly Adoskin).

In an effort to shade the play with literary allusions, Zorin echoed the plays of Anton Chekhov throughout. In the names and characters of the three female leads alone, references to "Three Sisters" and "Uncle Vanya" are obvious. But such echoes are only further examples of a play that cannot break free of its influences or its themes. Neither are Dolgachyov's conservative direction nor the predominantly young cast able to put meat on this tale's bare bones.

If you are interested in seeing Zorin at his current best, I suggest you go straight to "Forestage" ("Avanstsena"), his measured, sensitive "novel of memoirs" published last year by Slovo.

"A Moscow Nest" (Moskovskoye Gnezdo) plays Jan. 16 and 24 at 7 p.m. at the Mossoviet Theater Stage "Pod Kryshei," 16 Bolshaya Sadovaya. Tel. 299-2035. Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes.


CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK: In this great theater town, one thing any self-respecting observer ignores is the proliferation of theater awards. Over the past five years, only the lazy have failed to establish an award that ostensibly honors top achievements. Most are well financed, moderately well publicized and utterly worthless.

Every year, with a designated surprise thrown in to make things look legitimate, the same people pay tribute to the same circle of recipients. An incomplete listing includes awards named after great plays ("The Seagull"), great productions (Crystal Turandot), great dead directors (Stanislavsky), great dead actors (Smoktunovsky), and a living actor/director (Tabakov).

A semi-exception has been the Golden Mask. The Theater Union-run event has expanded its scope beyond the Moscow city limits, last year organizing a festival to bring out-of-town shows to the capital for greater exposure. The Golden Mask has had its share of follies -- the 1997 ceremonies disintegrated into shouting and hissing as the unpopular decisions were announced -- but its heart has been in the right place more often than not.

That was until this year, at least. I will wait for the March festival to pass judgment on the current crop of non-Moscow nominees, but the local nominations this time around are surprisingly lame. They are dominated by two productions -- Oleg Yefremov's "Three Sisters" at the Chekhov Art Theater and Mark Zakharov's "Barbarian and Heretic" at the Lenkom -- that symbolize the exhausted stylistics of Russiantheater in the 1960s and 1970s. Each is nominated in four of the categories, which include best show, director, actor, actress and set design.

Perhaps the strangest nominee is Yury Pogrebnichko's "Cherry Orchard." This show (up for best show and director) is a tired, pale imitation of some fine productions Pogrebnichko has created throughout the 1990s at his Theater Na Krasnoi Presne Near the Stanislavsky House. Two routine shows received nominations in a single category: Nadezhda Markina will contend for best actress in "Five Evenings" at the Theater Na Maloi Bronnoi, and Natalya Tenyakova received a nod for the same award for her performance in "After the Rehearsal" at the Chekhov Art Theater.

The "designated surprise" among this crop is Genrietta Yanovskaya's powerful production of "The Storm" at the Theater Yunogo Zritelya. It is named in four categories, missing out only in the best actor grouping.