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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Balm for the Vanquished

Vladimir Mirzoyev's new production of "Pinter's Collection," that is, Harold Pinter's play "Collection," had me thinking of numerous shows I have seen over the years.

There was Roman Kozak's 1994 production of Slawomir Mrozek's "Widows" under the title of "Banana." That show also starred Maxim Sukhanov and Yelena Shanina and featured the funky costumes and sets of Pavel Kaplevich. Next coming to mind were some Roman Viktyuk shows from the early to mid-'90s - "Lolita" and "Slingshot" among them. Those shows, like "Pinter's Collection," featured Sergei Makovetsky in prominent roles.

And then there were several of Mirzoyev's own productions from this period: "Amphitryon" at the Vakhtangov, "Two Women" at Lenkom and a couple of Shakespeare playsat the Stanislavsky. These shows also employed costumes or sets by Kaplevich and starred Sukhanov, Makovetsky or Shanina, sometimes together, sometimes separately.

The comparisons are not to the advantage of "Pinter's Collection," a tale about two men who may or may not become involved with a third man's wife. However, before I get to why I think that is, I want to make one thought perfectly clear.

In this, his first independently-produced "commercial" production, Mirzoyev has remained true to his own unique artistic vision. He has induced the public to come to him, rather than holding out a weather vane to see which way the wind of fashion is blowing. Mirzoyev makes his own weather - he has created a style, has cultivated a demand for it and is now stepping out to capitalize on it.

You've got to respect him for that. And I do.

The style of which I speak permeates every nook and cranny of "Pinter's Collection." Actors perform anything and everything but the text. Lines are delivered more as punchlines than as integral parts of a text that leads somewhere. Actors often move about in states of mystical confusion, as if they have become obsessed with contemplating their navel. They don't so much interact as force their own eccentric way of thinking and being on each other.

The Eastern-tinged quality of Mirzoyev's shows has been enhanced further here, thanks to designer Kaplevich. The set depicts a kind of Bedouin's tent with a beautiful Arabic scene in the background and rocks or perhaps pillows on the floor. The costumes for all the actors but one are flowing, billowy numbers that suggest a child's pajamas (for Sukhanov) or a sheik's layered burnoose and haik (for Makovetsky and Shanina). The only exception is the typical western jacket and slacks worn by Valentin Gaft as the offended husband.

Gaft's James is outraged when his wife Stella (Shanina) informs him that she had an incidental affair while on a business trip. James hunts down the man in question and finds that Bill (Sukhanov) is almost as happy to admit to the affair as he is to deny it.

Bill's live-in partner Harry (Makovetsky) is as upset by the matter as James, only, in his case, he sees the threat it poses to his relationship with Bill. As a defensive measure, he seduces Stella, although it becomes apparent that she lied about the affair in the first place.

Little of this has anything to do with what Mirzoyev staged. What he provided was a "collection" of four portraits.

Bill stands at the center as a kind of irritable, childlike creature - a strangely infantile or brain-damaged character. He makes up the "feminine" half of the pairing with Harry, who, with his smirks and aggressive behavior, appears as the "masculine" partner. James is the proverbial macho man who cracks at the first sign of danger. Stella is the eternal whore, victim, battered woman or what have you.

This latter image, almost a straight quote from the Viktyuk shows, is actually quite offensive.

Stella, a frightened, docile figure, is repeatedly yanked around and humiliated by the men. Harry clinches his "seduction" of her with the standard porno gesture of seizing her by the neck and forcing her face into his lap. The fact that Stella ends up "liking" it only increases the scene's unpleasantness. It seems a terribly old-fashioned clich? to find in a production of one of Moscow's trendiest directors.

I keep thinking of Kozak's "Banana," a show that shared much of the strangeness and irony of "Pinter's Collection." But where the former was cut with a jeweler's precision and rode the play's wicked humor hard, the latter is lazy and self-indulgent. At times, I wondered if Mirzoyev didn't just turn his actors loose to do whatever they wanted.

Maybe that's why this show reminds me of so many others. Because, rather than attempt to discover something new, everyone just brought to it what they already know.

"Pinter's Collection" is balm for the vanquished. Those who worship Mirzoyev will probably love it. Those who appreciate him at his best will wish to wait for something better.

"Pinter's Collection" (Kollektsiya Pintera), a production of the Art-Most Agency, has not yet been scheduled for February. Please call the theater for showtimes. Tel. 290-4658.