John Freedman • Газета THE MOSCOW TIMES, № 2527 от 20-22 сентября 2002 года • 20-22.09.2002
New Play is Tolstoy, Take TwoГлавная / Пресса / Сезон 26
Oleg Shishkin’s “Anna Karenina 2”, which opened last week at the Theater Na Yugo-Zapade, is a play I find irritating and seductive. I find it banal and insightful. It is a strange beast that changes its spots at the drop of a hat. It is a theatrical burlesque of horror show that has pretensions of being a serious drama.
Furthermore, “Anna Karenina 2” is one of those plays in which everybody involved must be right on target. The actors must dive into the grotesque world of the work without going in head over heels. The director must draw out the legitimate themes without being too earnest. The play constantly teeters on the edge of becoming a cruel parody of itself.
The chief object of its parody, of course, is Leo Tolstoy’s novel. For one, I am thrilled that Shishkin took on Tolstoy. I have always thought the great writer was brutally unfair to his heroine and that he threw her beneath the wheels of a train to suit his own will rather than hers. In that sense, Shishkin has restored justice: he wrote a play about what happens to Tolstoy’s characters when Anna survives the accident, albeit missing an arm, a leg and an eye.
Shishkin, however, exacts a terrible revenge on the novel’s other characters: Anna’s lover Vronsky is left catatonic following a concussion incurred in the Balkan wars, while the moralist Konstantin Levin coerces Anna into having sex with him an is then killed by a falling telegraph pole. All of his must elicit guffaws from the audience if it is to work. They must get the joke and accept it. They must join in the spirit of overkill and be ready for more at any minute.
Valery Belyakovich’s production at the Theater Na Yugo-Zapade does not always pull this off. The gross gags about badly damaged bodies often fall flat and occasionally offend. At the same time, Belyakovich created a handful of scenes – most of them towards the end of the show – that suddenly pull us out of the play’s deliberate creepiness and nail down some lucid conclusions about the frailty of human life and the power of human emotions. The chorus of actors traversing the empty stage in wheelchairs, for example, implies that handicaps of all kinds are more common in the world than we are accustomed to admitting.
Shishkin’s underlying premise is that modern technology has taken more than it has given us. Often, as in trains running over people or tracks cutting rudely though virgin landscapes, it is an abomination. And yet, the human factor, in this case the passion of someone like Anna, is capable of rising above the onslaught.
One of the most effective scenes in Belyakovich’s interpretation involves Vronsky, a minor character in Shishkin’s play. The grinning, motionless idiot Vronsky (Yevgeny Sergeyev) is slowly wheeled in for a meeting with Anna (Tamara Kudryashova). Not a word is spoken as the sorrowful melody of a folk song cuts through the silence. Everyone present recognizes this as a requiem for every dead or wounded soldier of any war past or present – the audience at the show I attended burst into applause at the scene’s end.
But as someone who has followed this theater for 14 years, I often find myself being trapped into saying the same things about Belyakovich’s shows. Perhaps my vocabulary is severely limited, but Belyakovich has undeniably evolved a narrow, though distinct, style from which he never deviates. He rarely demands nuances from his actors. He almost invariably has them moving about the stage in semigeometrical forms at high speeds, speaking in forced voices at high volume and applying the techniques of high camp and operatic overkill to their characterizations. There are times in “Anna Karenina 2” when the play’s built-in exaggerations pale next to those heaped on us by the cast.
And yet, there are those few “buts” that ultimately redeemed this show for me. As Alexei Karenin, Anna’s hypocritical husband who now thinks he has become a novelist as well, Alexei Vanin usually vamps and overacts with glee. Then, suddenly, he delivers a chilling scene, quietly discussing with Anna the “acceptable” number of deaths trains cause each year. Unexpected pearls like this not only keep this show from tilting over bottoms-up, they give it an integrity that cannot be denied.