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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

MARQUEE: Poet Trapped In Mirrors

On the eve of Alexander Pushkin's 200th birthday, it seems we can approach the great poet only through a house of mirrors. In "Pushkin. Duel. Death." at the Theater Yunogo Zritelya, Kama Ginkas offers 12 versions and suggests that none provides an adequate description. In "Quarantine" at the Theater Na Pokrovke (see the review on this page), Sergei Artsibashev gives us his personal vision of Russia's national bard.

At the Pushkin Drama Theater affiliate, Yury Yeryomin admitted in his very choice of material that the best approach to Pushkin is indirect.

He staged Pushkin's "The Queen of Spades" in a dramatization called "Dreisiebenas" ("Threesevenace") by the contemporary playwright Nikolai Kolyada. Then, with designer Valery Fomin, he erected a house of mirrors on stage. It splits not only the five characters, but also the two Pushkin lookalikes - who quietly pass through, sweeping the floor or moving props - into seven additional figures.

This modest show continues the genre of literary theater that Yeryomin has cultivated since he opened the Pushkin's small affiliate stage in 1997, but it also adds a welcome tinge of theatricality. This is due in part to Fomin's simple but effective set that covers the floor with snow; in part to Kolyada's able dramatization; and in part to some fine acting.

That is especially true of Natalya Nikolayeva as the old Countess, who intrigues the young Hermann (Alexander Peskov) because she supposedly knows a card combination no gambler can beat.

Nikolayeva, disfigured beneath a mask of peeling skin and a nearly bald head, tyrannizes Liza (Yelena Novikova), her aide, with equal shares of cruelty, charm and biting humor, falling victim to Hermann out of senility, stupidity and a tad of youthful innocence.

Kolyada slightly reshuffled the tale's characters. The play begins with a chat between two characters - the Countess' grandson Tomsky (Vasily Bezdushny) and the gambler (Dmitry Skripchenko), who will be Hermann's ruin - rather than the whole cast. In this conversation and elsewhere, Kolyada tips off what remains a secret in Pushkin's story until the end - the 3-7-Ace card combination. The point is that everyone knows the secret to "happiness," but no one knows what to do with it.

"Dreisiebenas" provides no revelations, but it makes the most of what it offers - a solid, modern take on one of Pushkin's best stories.

- John Freedman