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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Low Budget 'Exhibits' Misses Something in Cut

playwright and director centerAnna Yegorova plays a modern girl.��
Is any theater in Moscow busier than Teatr.doc and the Playwright and Director Center these days? I doubt it. These venues, often working jointly, as on the production of Vyacheslav Durnenkov's "Exhibits," just keep pumping out new shows.

Moreover, they're doing it in a supremely appropriate way for the times -- low-budget and no frills. I'm tempted to call what they're doing the Russian theater version of those new Neil Young videos on the net -- homegrown, low-tech and minimalist.

"Exhibits" first appeared a couple of years back at the small, influential Lyubimovka playwriting festival. Unlike most plays being written today, it is an old-fashioned, big-cast, plot-driven piece with pretensions to being realistic and psychology-based – a saga of two families. This is not the kind of work that is usually staged at Teatr.doc or the Playwright and Director Center. In that sense, we can call it something of an experiment.

Also unusual is the fact that director Alexei Zhiryakov cut the original text severely. I don't think this has ever happened at either of these two theaters that were created by and for playwrights. But Durnenkov's sprawling play about two feuding families in a provincial town has been whittled down to a few key scenes that give us the crux of the conflict, not the details.

Perhaps it could have been no other way. It's almost impossible to imagine this piece being done justice on the postage stamp of a stage at Teatr.doc. What Zhiryakov did was transform the work into a series of close-up dialogues. As a result, the production is static and talky, far more so than the play. Designer Lyosha Lobanov split the stage in two -- a round table at one end representing a number of interiors, a park bench representing outdoor locations at the other. With 100 spectators crammed into a space that usually seats 50, the actors work with eyeballs following every twitch of their faces and outstretched legs keeping them from moving with much liberty.

Olga Bulavina / playwright and director center
Sergei Kalashnikov and Arina Marakulina play siblings in the Zuyev family.
Voronko (Alexei Rozin) and Chernovitsky (Igor Stam) are new Russian entrepreneurs looking to set up a backward provincial city as a tourist trap by turning it into a living museum. Their idea is to have the residents dress in historical garb a couple of times a week and sit around spinning wheels at home so that big-city visitors can get a feel for what life was like in Russia 150 years ago.

Not everyone in town is thrilled by the idea, and it isn't long before old rivalries heat up anew. Tensions between the Morozov and Zuyev families are exacerbated, because over the generations there have been numerous attempts, mostly failed, at love affairs between the men and women. This is a town, and these are families where the distance between love and hate, anger and murder, is less than a step.

This production focuses squarely on the characters and the words they speak, largely skipping over the story. While this lets us inside the heads of a few characters, there is an overall sense that something is missing.

There are, however, some performances worthy of note. As the deeply and darkly resentful Klim Zuyev, Nikita Yemshanov turns in a chilling, but charming, reading of a man whose emotions and moral makeup, like most everything in this town, are frozen in time. He cannot escape the injuries of the past, thus shutting down the possibility of a productive future. As Valya, the young daughter from the Morozov clan, Anna Yegorova provides an attractive look at a recognizably modern Russian material girl. Yevgeny Antropov and Vladimir Kurochkin offer comic relief in the roles of local eccentrics, the town drunk Pate and the old war veteran Tolya, respectively.

The best moments of this production have the actors working against the grain of the text. The more they bicker, the closer they seem.

But by abridging the play, Zhiryakov left us with the remains of a lopsided tale. The Morozov family, with its hard-working, relatively progressive-minded patriarch Yura (Ivan Kokorin), is relegated to a supporting role. When tragedy strikes him, it's not entirely clear what has happened.

Also lost is the sense of the town as a whole. With its focus on a few individuals, this production bypasses the breadth and scope of the social portrait that one suspects Durnenkov wished to create.

"Exhibits," a co-production of Teatr.doc and the Playwright and Director Center, plays Sunday and Tuesday at 8 p.m. at Teatr.doc, located at 11/13 Tryokhprudny Pereulok, Bldg. 1. Metro Pushkinskaya. Tel. 945-3245., Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.