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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

""Karlovna"" Challenges Young Actors




It is probably only natural that the Russian playwright who symbolizes the future better than any other seems able only to get students to perform her plays.


Olga Mukhina, 27, speaks the language of young Russia. Her characters are bright, complex and thoroughly modern. Moreover, their youthful irreverence is not just a sign of pointless rebellion because each in their own way is looking to cultivate new traditions and build their own world so that it will have meaning for them.


"The Love of Karlovna," which just opened on the attractive new small stage of the Contemporary Play School, is the third Mukhina play to be mounted in Moscow in two years. Two and a half of those productions, if I may put it that way, have been student shows.


The first, "Tanya-Tanya," was produced at the Fomenko Studio at a time when the young actors of that venue had already become professionals in name, but not yet in deed. It was their exhilarating performance of "Tanya-Tanya" that proved they had finally overcome the limitations of their student years.


Next was "YoU," which opened at the beginning of the current season at the Fomenko Studio. "YoU" was written especially for the same group that performed "Tanya-Tanya," but, for various reasons, was passed on to the Studio's most recent graduating class. This time, the result was an oversimplified production that garbled the play's depth and innovations.


"The Love of Karlovna" is another so-called "diploma production" performed by students at the State Institute of Cinematography. The show, directed by Iosif Raikhelgauz, has just been added to the repertory at Raikhelgauz's Contemporary Play School.


Of the three plays, "Karlovna" is the oldest. Written in 1992, it was published in 1994, although it took the publicity surrounding "Tanya-Tanya" and "YoU" to get anyone to take special notice.


Like the other works, "Karlovna" is impressionistic, exalted and unencumbered by the restrictions of reality. At the same time, it is narrower than the others, focusing specifically on the character of Holly, a young woman plagued by thoughts of love. All of the other enigmatic people seem to be figments of Holly's imagination to one degree or another.


Raikhelgauz valiantly sought to tap into the play's youthful freshness by having characters swaying on swings, blowing bubbles, carousing like kittens, sitting on audience member's laps and speaking in childish, sing-song voices. But the cumulative effect of these devices is decidedly superficial -- they do not so much build the airy atmosphere that is the heart and soul of Mukhina's style as they do create a pale imitation.


Mukhina's play, it must be said, is no easy nut to crack.


There is no plot to speak of, just people wandering in and out of Holly's communal apartment. Apparently involved in a lazy affair with Gornotsvetov (Sergei Skvortsov), Holly (Olga Gusiletova) cannot free herself of her attachment to the mysterious Ivanov (Dmitry Goldman) and it is the thoughts prompted by the memory of him that occupy her most.


For this production, Ivanov has been renamed O, perhaps because, as one who may not exist, he is best identified by the zero-like symbol.


Holly's extravagant friend Begonia (Yelena Ksenofontova), like the outrageous French Boy (Gleb Globin) -- both outfitted in brightly colored, feathered costumes designed by Yekaterina Spasolomskaya -- seem intended as carefree counterweights to Holly's pensive personality. They are not bothered by the doubts and anxieties that continually wash over her.


Other eccentric passersby include the bleach-blond Man (Mikhail Sputai), another of Holly's lovers, crude and demanding, and the slinky, pointy-nosed male and female halves of the appropriately named Strange Pair (Anzhelika Tyutikova and Maxim Yevseyev).


The Karlovna of the title -- who is not mentioned in the program at the Contemporary Play School and whose short scenes are played by Ksenofontova -- is another "nonexistent" character. Now dead, she once lived in Gornotsvetov's room, and her spirit is something of a comfort to the melancholy Holly.


In essence, "The Love of Karlovna" is the monologue of a young woman enduring the loss of love. While it lacks the scope and power of Mukhina's later plays, it demonstrates the writer's ambitious aspirations to create dramatic situations out of inner monologues. When it succeeds, the results can be startling. When it doesn't -- as is often the case in this production -- it can break up into what seems a string of meaningless texts.


I suspect Raikhelgauz and his young crew did all they could to hold the ethereal play together. Gusiletova, especially, mixes humor and delicacy in a way that suits the typical Mukhina heroine. But while the students in this show are obviously comfortable with Mukhina's unorthodox language and dramatic structures, they don't have -- or haven't been provided -- the necessary experience and understanding to give them form.


The Fomenko Studio's "Tanya-Tanya" notwithstanding, Olga Mukhina is a major up-and-coming playwright still waiting to be discovered by the mainstream.


"The Love of Karlovna" (Lyubov Karlovny) plays April 14 and 28 at 7 p.m. at the Contemporary Play School, 29/14 Neglinnaya Ulitsa. Tel. 200-0756, 200-3087. Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes.