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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Mirzoyev Takes On Turgenev Tale

What could Vladimir Mirzoyev and Muhammad Ali possibly have in common?

This season, anyway, Mirzoyev, like Ali, has been floating like a butterfly -- from venue to venue.

The Stanislavsky Theater began the current campaign with two new Mirzoyev productions, "Doves" and "That, This Other World"; last month the Vakhtangov Theater unleashed Mirzoyev's cosmic, often breathtaking production of "Amphitryon"; and now the prolific director has flitted across town to the Lenkom, where he has just opened "Two Women," an abridged version of Ivan Turgenev's classic 19th-century drama, "A Month in the Country."

As for stinging like a bee, that's something the unorthodox Mirzoyev has done regularly and with relish ever since returning to Russia in 1994 after a five-year sojourn in Canada. Thanks to his propensity for rearranging and creatively interpreting texts, no other director in Moscow today has injured the sensibilities of so many.

This time, however, Mirzoyev pleas with the spectator in a program note not to "disparage the authors of the production and to try to contemplate his or her own dreams a little more attentively."

The reference to dreams, of course, is not coincidental.

Mirzoyev's shows are shot through with the strange behavior and unreal atmosphere that we usually equate with the dream state. It is a quality the director has been developing carefully over the years and it reached a peak in the recent "Amphitryon," one of the best, most innovative shows of the season.

Dream-like fantasies are there again in abundance in "Two Women," but I cannot help but feel the new piece falls short of its predecessor. It is as though Mirzoyev expended so much inspiration on "Amphitryon," he was left a little dry for his next project. But if I could not bring myself to love the new show, I found it an intriguing addition to Mirzoyev's growing list of challenging productions.

Picking up on Turgenev's own hints -- "Two Women" was one of the great writer's original choices for a title -- Mirzoyev trimmed a sprawling play down to a relatively neat portrait of the competition that both binds and separates two women. While the single object of their interest is a young man, in this version Mirzoyev essentially has created a tale about two women in search of themselves.

That is not to say he deflected attention from the sexual game. On the contrary, he brought it out into the open in all of the relations between all of the characters. This is a world in which people naturally embrace, touch and smell each other -- almost always in a state of heightened sensuality.

Dmitry Alexeyev's set perhaps suggests symbols of both sexes. It includes an enormous tree stump at the center of which is a cavity from which people occasionally emerge. Pavel Kaplevich's costumes are made of coarse, earthy materials in brown and black.

As Natalya, the older of the two women, Yelena Shanina turns in a fine performance laced with humor, softness and inner strength. Her cruelty and impatience toward her young rival Verochka (Maria Mironova) is always tempered with understanding and memory. Mironova's Verochka commands a simple purity shaded with the anticipation of the mature sexuality still slumbering within her.

When she finally realizes that she is losing the contest, she declares, "I am no child anymore," and there is absolutely no doubting her.

Eventually, even if it is only briefly, the two come together in a simple, yet profound way that may be accessible only to women.

The men in "Two Women," although distinctly differentiated in character, may be seen as various aspects of the male principle. As Alexei, the young tutor who comes between Natalya and Verochka, Dmitry Maryanov is excellent as the somewhat gallant, moderately indifferent suitor who cannot comprehend the consequences of his actions. Natalya's husband, Arkady, (Andrei Sokolov) is straightforward and preoccupied, while her lover, Rakitin, (Viktor Rakov) is compassionate and ineffectual.

No matter where Mirzoyev goes, he takes his favorite actor, Maxim Sukhanov, with him. Here, Sukhanov transforms the usually marginal role of the country doctor Shpigelsky into the main counterpart to the two women. Often arrogant and uncouth, Sukhanov's ever-present doctor cannot be pinned down in a single description. Animal-like at times, he may also become gracious and tender at the drop of a hat.

While most of the acting, as usual in Mirzoyev's productions, is strong, "Two Women" is marred by a certain colorlessness. That may result as a combination of Alexeyev's rather monotonous set, the bland music by Sergei Rudnitsky, Boris Diart and Alexei Shelygin, and the repetitious white and yellow lighting by Sergei Skornetsky. But I also sensed Mirzoyev himself wasn't able to draw out the radiance and pungency he was after.

For me, "Two Women" is a vessel half full. It has many of the trademark Mirzoyev flights of fancy, but it left me wanting more.

"Two Women" (Dve Zhenshchiny) plays April 1, 2, 19 and 30 at 7 p.m. at the Lenkom Theater, 6 Malaya Dmitrovka. Tel. 299-0708. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes.