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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Trick of Taking in a Show

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???????: farce, buffoonery, travesty

It's Thursday night, and you and your significant other are discussing plans for the weekend. For some reason, your soul mate does not seem enthused about spending it on the couch with a bag of chips and a six-pack, watching a pirated tape with sound so out of sync with the picture you can't tell who's talking. Your significant other, knowing that you'll go to the Conservatory when pigs fly, decides to try a softer approach. ?????? ? ????? ???????. ???????, ??? ??? ???????????? ???? ???????????. You catch the bit about going to a theater and some kind of great duet, but the rest remains a mystery.

Russian light theatrical fare poses some problems for the English-speaker. Much of the terminology comes from the French and English, but many of these genres have been lost in the West, replaced by television comedy and talk shows.

For the record, ??????? comes from the French (estrade) and is both a stage platform and what is performed on it: a variety show of popular music, dance, sketches and comedy routines. It seems to be the last stage of evolution of popular theater that started with ?????-???? (music hall); ??????? (variety show, similar to what in the United States was Vaudeville); and ??????-???? (cabarets). It is also the word you use to describe the whole range of light and low-brow theatrical entertainment, from the familiar ???? (circus) to the puzzling ????? ????????, literally "a theater of short acts," something like a theatrical revue: a show with short plays, sketches, opera arias, parodies, dances and monologs. This is a bit more high-toned than ???????, but still "theater lite."

The king of the variety show is ??????????? -- the emcee, who introduces the acts and keeps up a light patter. In addition to song and dance, ??????? includes what are called ??????????? ????? (literally "talking genres"). One of my friends, who can happily maintain entertaining patter for 15 hours straight, jokes that she is ?????? ???????????? ????? (a master of the art of talking). In variety shows this genre includes ????? (sketch), ??????? ? ?????? (artistic monolog, when the performer delivers a monolog in character), ??????? (humorous verse that is sung) and ???????????? ???? (literally "satirical duet," a comedy dialog).

In Russia you can trace the source of all this light entertainment back to ????????? (wandering comic minstrels) and ??????? (buffoonery: comic, often bawdy sketches and acts). Today ??????? has been smartened up into ??? (show), which, as far I can tell, is pretty much the same thing, only with pretensions.

Even if you don't like light theatrical entertainment, it's useful to know the lingo: These words are often used in discussions of political life. ?? ?????, ??? ????????? ? ???? ?????? ????! (Did you see what went on in the Duma yesterday? What a circus!) ???, so glamorous on the stage, has the sense of an empty or shameful spectacle in the political arena: ????????????? ????????????? ???????? ??????? ??????? ??? ???????????? ???, ? ????? ?????????? ? ??????????????? ???????????. (First the parliamentary investigation of the terrorist acts was condemned as a political show, and then was turned into bureaucratic nonsense.) You can also use the word ????????? (literally play or performance) to indicate your contempt for political behavior: ?? ????????? ???????????? ?????????. (He put on a political show.)

??????? is the most damning word to apply to political events and phenomena, and miserable to translate. It is more circus-like than farce, rowdier than travesty and more tumultuous than soap opera (to mention a few words that pop up when you type in "American political scandal" on a search engine). Depending on the context, you might try the figurative use of an American theatrical genre: ??? ??????????? ??? ?????? ? ??????????? ? ???????. (The trial went on for three months and turned into burlesque.)

At least you catch the main idea: Get the hook!

Michele A. Berdy is a Moscow-based translator and interpreter.