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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016


The Vakhtangov Theater is famed for its tradition of sparkling, colorful and playful acting and productions. It may be a heritage that is impossible to live up to all the time, but from time to time a return to the source produces results of interest. That is definitely true of Alexander Gorban's production of "Lefty," a "musical parable" by Yevgeny Zamyatin based on a popular tale by Nikolai Leskov.

This "Lefty" throws itself wholeheartedly into the folkloric basis of the story about a simple Russian craftsman who defends the dignity of his tsar and homeland by outdoing the miracles of some foreign artisans. Anatoly Isayenko's set - empty space surrounded by an oversized patchwork quilt fence - and Svetlana Sinitsyna's gay, ruffly costumes are brilliantly colored and delightfully stylized. They set the tone for this loosely and engagingly performed fairy tale.

As Lefty, the craftsman from Tula who forges a set of shoes for a microscopic dancing steel flea made in England, Oleg Lopukhov is country fresh personified. He is light, quick and simple, whether in his courting of his beloved Mashka (Olga Tumaikina) or in his conversations with the capricious Tsar (Viktor Zozulin) who is determined to outdo the English.

But it is Mariya Aronova as the ataman's daughter Nyurka who is the centrifugal force of the show. She is ordered by the tsar upon pain of death to find a craftsman capable of surpassing the mastery of the foreigners. Even if she is unsure of herself, an occasional swig of vodka and an imitated military swagger eventually make her equal to the task.

Aronova, whose free and easy manner makes it seem as though she occasionally steps outside her character to have a good laugh at her own expense, has as much fun performing as we do watching her. This is the epitome of the Vakhtangov style.

Gorban added a dark note in the finale by replacing Zamyatin's happy resolution with Leskov's original ending. This strengthens the impact of the tale by maintaining its folkloric severity and honesty.

- John Freedman