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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Theater Awards for a Season Well Played

The annual Moscow Times Theater Awards have gained a reputation for being quirky, tendentious and opinionated. We hope that this year's list - reviewing the 1998-1999 season - is perceived no differently.

Trend of the Year: New Plays. It's been a long time coming, but the contemporary play returned to viability this season. Let's not talk about quality yet, because the conversation will get too sticky too quickly. So let's talk numbers: There were at least 38 shows based on contemporary plays this season. That is a significant jump over last year's 26 and it blows the average of previous seasons, 10 to 15, out of the water.

Best New Play: Oleg Bogayev's "The Russian National Postal Service," produced under the title "Room of Laughter" at the Theater Yunogo Zritelya. Also noteworthy were Andrei Maximov's "The Shepherd" and Yelena Isayeva's "Judith," but Bogayev's tragifarcical tale of an old man standing up to the vagaries of his age impressed especially.

Best Production: I'll do what I often do - I'll chicken out and name three: "Hamlet," directed by Robert Sturua at the Satirikon; "Pushkin. Duel. Death," directed by Kama Ginkas at the Theater Yunogo Zritelya; and "Marat and Marquis de Sade," directed by Yury Lyubimov at the Taganka.

Big Noise, No Go: Both Oleg Menshikov's production of "Woe from Wit" at the 814 Theatrical Association and Peter Stein's "Hamlet," a co-production of the International Confederation of Theater Associations and the Goethe Cultural Center, were hyped to the hilt. That didn't make them any better, though. Watching these two marathon shows was like watching bald tires spin on ice.

Lost in the Ozone: Viktor Shamirov's "Lost in Paradise." Shamirov is a gifted young writer/director, and it's good to see talent taking chances. But this was ridiculous. Shamirov's play about an incognito actress and an undercover FBI agent who are sparring on a drifting boat when visited by a renegade astronaut disguised as an Arab sheik was in such feeble imitation of Dashiell Hammett that the author promptly took cover behind the pseudonym "Ned Rusetski." So far so good. But then he went and staged the mess at the Contemporary Play School. More like preschool. Grade? F-.

Lost and Found: Gennady Abramov's Class of Expressive Body Movement. This unique theater has been one of the best worst-kept secrets in town since it was founded as a division of Anatoly Vasilyev's School of Dramatic Art in 1991. It performed publicly only a handful of times each year to enthusiastic connoisseurs of physical theater, but it quickly gained international renown. In January, Abramov clashed with Vasilyev and the latter kicked the former out. Bad news? Yes, because Abramov will have difficulty surviving in a tough economic climate. But his newfound independence is a major consolation. This will become a theater to watch in the near future.

Our Mr. Everything: Obviously, Pushkin. But seriously, folks - Sergei Artsibashev. What does this guy not do well? He directs ("The Little Orchestra of Hope," "The Shepherd" and "Quarantine - Boldino Autumn"). He acts (same three shows). He writes ("Quarantine - Boldino Autumn"). Next, somebody will tell me he makes the coffee served in the bar of his Theater Na Pokrovke. And I'll believe it. If it's a good cup.

Mr. Workhorse: Kama Ginkas. He staged three new shows this season, including "The Golden Cockerel" and "Pushkin. Duel. Death" at the Theater Yunogo Zritelya, and "Room of Laughter" at the Tabakov Theater; shot a television movie called "Count Nulin" and nearly finished another show, Chekhov's "The Black Monk," which will premiere early next fall.

Youngest Octogenarian: Yury Lyubimov. At 81, this guy puts the rest of us to shame. All in one season, this founder of the Taganka Theater played a wily Stalin in his own production of Alexander Solzhenitsyn's "Sharashka;" he revived the Taganka's 35-year-old debut production of Brecht's "The Good Person of Setzuan;" and, most important, turned out a slashing, thrilling, daringly youthful production of Peter Weiss' "Marat and Marquis de Sade."

Oldest Centurion: The Moscow Art Theater. This world-famous house turned 100 in October and looked its age. A shameful, nationally televised celebration featured four hours of drunks telling drunk jokes. Three new shows were canceled after having reached dress rehearsal. For the second year in a row, one of the venue's top young stars died tragically - this season it was Sergei Shkalikov of a drug overdose. Although there was a flicker of hope in Nadezhda Ptushkina's enjoyable "Christmas Dreams," this is a theater searching desperately for direction as its second century gets under way.

New Kids on the Block: Three new theaters of interest - the Playwright and Director Center, the APARTE Theater and the Theater of Emotional Drama - were joined by new small stages at the Maly Theater affiliate and the Vladimir Vysotsky Museum and Cultural Center, proving that the scope and possibilities of Moscow theater continue to expand.

Best Debut: the actors Ilya Bledny and Irina Kareva, both of whom performed brilliantly in Sergei Gazarov's eccentric production of Gogol's "The Inspector General" at the Dzhigarkhanyan Theater. Honorable mention goes to director Georgy Tovstonogov, the grandson of the great Leningrad director. His production of Vladimir Gurkin's "The Baikal Quadrille" at the Yermolova Theater-Center was a fine first outing.

Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde: Vladimir Mirzoyev. In March he put out a fascinating, thought-provoking version of Shakespeare's "The Taming of the Shrew" at the Stanislavsky Theater. Barely two months later, he unveiled an anemic, monotonous interpretation of "Twelfth Night" at the same venue.

Missing in Action: Pyotr Fomenko, Mikhail Levitin and Anatoly Vasilyev rehearsed and worked at their usual pace, but none produced anything publicly. Sergei Zhenovach, after resigning his chief director post at the Theater Na Maloi Bronnoi under pressure last year, took this season off.

Consistency Award: The Satirikon. This house run by Konstantin Raikin can play serious drama ("Hamlet"), light drama ("The Lion in Winter"), and it can just plain goof off ("Quartet") - and you know what? It does it all with talent, energy and conviction. This is one mean theater machine.

Warning Shot Over the Bow: Everybody knows that this year the "expert" committee of the Golden Mask awards and festivals pulled one of its dumbest stunts ever when it failed to nominate anyone for best actress. So, just in case, how about this list, folks?: Yulia Rutberg in "Miss Julie" at the Vakhtangov Theater; Olga Aroseva in "Athenian Evenings" for the Pyotr Gladilin Theatrical Assembly; Natalya Grebyonkina in "The Little Orchestra of Hope" at the Theater Na Pokrovke; Irina Lindt in "Marat and Marquis de Sade" at the Taganka Theater; Vera Voronkova in "Judith" at the Playwright and Director Center; Anna Kamenkova in "Hanna" for the Independent Theater Project. Anybody listening?

Mr. Silent: Igor Yasulovich. This is an actor everybody knows, everybody respects, but too many forget to mention. Maybe it's because he says so little? Between his performances as Sabinin in Valery Fokin's production of Chekhov's "lost" play "Tatyana Repina" and Nashchokin in Ginkas' "Pushkin. Duel. Death" combined, he barely had a full page of dialogue. But his work in those plays was easily among the most powerful and complex of the season.

Hottest Month: October. The next time you hear somebody grousing about Moscow theater, say: "What about October 1998?" And then watch them self-destruct. October was an amazing month, featuring five premieres from four world-class directors: Kama Ginkas had two, "The Golden Cockerel" and "Room of Laughter;" Valery Fokin had one, "Tatyana Repina;" and both the great Robert Sturua and the German master Peter Stein put out productions of "Hamlet." So what if Stein's show flopped? This was a month for the record books.

Man of the Year: Kama Ginkas. In 1997, this director, one of Russia's most demanding, unique and innovative, had a quadruple bypass following a massive heart attack. In the 1998-99 season, he not only worked like a horse (see above), but he had one of the most diverse and successful seasons of his 32-year career. Ginkas is a major talent at the peak of his powers, and we're fortunate to be here to see it.