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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Dreamy Show That Is Theater With a Capital T

Laboratory of the Russian AcademyOne of the scenes in "Katerina's Dreams," a gruesome nature morte as women's heads pop up on a dining table.
There are artists who, by their nature, stand outside of what everyone else does. Dmitry Krymov is one of them. A designer and painter by profession, he has become one of Moscow’s most intriguing directors and educators in recent years, doing things no one else does in ways no one else has thought of.

“Katerina’s Dreams,” Krymov’s latest production, is still another new start. This time it is the first public outing of a second-year class of future designers that Krymov is teaching at the Russian Academy of Theater Arts. Like most of Krymov’s shows, it has the nature of a painting come to life. And like all of his shows, it bears the individual stamp of each performer in it.

“Katerina’s Dreams” is a production made by students and pulled together in a coherent form by Krymov. It is simple, naive and touching. It is often very funny, is always lively and it packs a couple of emotional wallops.

Ostensibly the production’s discrete segments are based on the predicament faced by the tragic heroine Katerina in Alexander Ostrovsky’s “The Storm.” A vulnerable young woman with a fevered imagination, she ultimately crashes against the rock-hard traditions of the Russian countryside. Krymov’s students took this idea and ran with it, sometimes literally, as when the show begins and the entire cast races helter-skelter into the hall carrying an enormous Christmas tree on their backs.

Any attempt to be too specific about what each scene “means” is bound to do harm to scenes and meaning. Take, for instance, the first scene, which is already taking place when the audience enters the hall. A young woman with an innocent face holds onto a string attached to a balloon that has flown up to the ceiling. For the longest time we watch her. Why is she there? What is she doing? What is she thinking? We don’t know. But she seems preoccupied by some thought, or at least a premonition of something to come. Then — boom! — the balloon drops to the floor like a lead anvil. Lights out. On to the next scene.

Most of the show, like this opening etude, is built of images in motion. A dream scene of a young woman facing down a barnyard of elegant black roosters develops as the lights cut in and out. Each time the deep blue lights come up again, the number of roosters and their place on the stage has changed. Little by little they push her back up against a wall. Nothing to it? It would seem so, but then why is it so moving? It is done with precision, taste and an understanding of the laws of both beauty and suggestiveness.

Other scenes include a fantastically gruesome nature morte of women’s heads popping up in huge bottles on a table laden with fruits and vegetables, something like Rembrandt meets Bosch. There is a bride with a pigtail that gets trapped in an ice hole, or a hole to hell, and she must struggle to avoid being sucked into oblivion. My subjective pick for the most beautiful moment is when a young woman, like Ostrovsky’s Katerina, steps into the waves of a roiling river. The river is made of a large piece of cloth. The waves are created by 10 actors lifting and lowering the cloth as the actress makes her way through the middle, ripping it in half — almost embarrassingly simple, yet stunningly beautiful and moving.

Perhaps the most startling moment comes in a short scene showing a thoughtful pregnant young woman caressing her distended stomach. As the light changes, we see the distorted face of another human being wailing and grimacing inside her womb.

The longest scene is conducted by the only professional actor in the cast, Mikhail Umanets. He leads us on a wild pseudo-scholarly search for the “real-life” prototype of Ostrovsky’s Katerina in the village of Kozly (Asses). But the search for truth proves too much for him, and he ends up limping off the stage while spitting teeth.

Make of this what you will. Ostrovsky or no. Katerina or no. Someone might even suggest this isn’t theater. But what is, then? Krymov brings people, ideas, emotions and images to life on stage in ways I’d never imagined possible. I call that theater with a capital “T.”

“Katerina’s Dreams” (Sny Kateriny), a production of the Dmitry Krymov Laboratory of the Russian Academy of Theater Arts, plays March 20 and 22 at 8 p.m. at the Project Otkrytaya Stsena, located at 20 Povarskaya Ulitsa, entrance through the back of the building. Metro Arbatskaya. Tel. 691-4443, 691-4115. Running time: 1 hour, 10 minutes.