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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016


Even when the Maly Theater breaks out of its rut, it still sticks to its habits. Vladimir Beilis's staging of Galina Turchina's "Mercy and Judgement" as "The Chronicle of a Palace Coup" marks only the third time in over a decade that the theater has turned to a contemporary play. Even in this smidgen of innovation, however, the topic stubbornly remains the same - intrigues among kings, queens, courts and courtiers.

In part because the Maly has run this issue into the ground, in part because Turchina's play is adamantly conventional in its construction, and in part because Beilis slavishly dots the "i"s of Turchina's prosaic material, this show is of negligible interest.

Turchina wanted to do something different. She approached the conflict between the Russian Tsar Peter III and his Austrian wife Catherine from an uncommon angle. Peter is usually perceived as weak and ineffectual. His wife, who did nothing to hinder the coup that killed him and effected her ascension to the throne, is nonetheless customarily considered more favorably. Turchina, however, sees Peter as a reformer and concerned ruler, while Catherine, who would later become Catherine the Great, is depicted as conniving and ruthless.

Be that as it may, Turchina wrote a standard play filled with name-dropping to keep the spectator oriented, whispered conspiracies, opportune eavesdropping and timely arrivals at unexpected moments. It's the same old thing, turned upside-down. Beilis delivers it without the slightest irony or distance.

Nikolai Vereshchenko's Peter is a one-dimensional fairy-tale character - a sensitive man who wishes to free the serfs, do away with bureaucracy and tragically loves another woman. Also, as if from a Brothers Grimm fairy tale, Lyudmila Titova's Catherine is a monotonously treacherous figure who uses everyone to achieve her dastardly goals.

"The Chronicle of a Palace Coup," playing at the Maly's affiliate on Bolshaya Ordynka, neither adds to the luster of the Maly's reputation nor convincingly reinterprets the Catherine legend.

- John Freedman