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THE HANGOVER REPORT –The Theatre of Nations’ SHUKSHIN’S STORIES soulfully exemplifies the vitality of the Russian spirit through life as lived

By dredimanJune 9, 2016No Comments

shuk2Last night, I had the great privilege of catching the first of four performances of The Theatre of Nations’ Shukshin’s Stories at New York City Center. I first encountered this Moscow-based company when it performed one of the most exciting and visceral takes on Strindberg’s Miss Julie I’d ever seen as part of last year’s Lincoln Center Festival. I thus made it a point to make time this week to acquaint myself further with the work of this adventurous and impressive company.

Rarely does art truly imitate life as it does in Shukshin’s Stories. The evening is comprised of ten short unrelated vignettes that have been dramatized by Roman Dolzhanskiy from stories originally penned by Vasily Shukshin, a noted writer of the Soviet era. Lasting at approximately 15 minutes each, these short episodes are essentially snapshots of the daily life of the Russian working class. In addition to being entertaining, they more importantly burst with the authentic exuberance of life as lived. It’s all there – the mundane, the extraordinary, the heartbreak, the love, the unpredictability, the romance, the sex, the economics of living, the craziness of it all. Taken cumulatively, these stories stirringly and lovingly exemplify the vitality of the Russian spirit.

On paper, the production might seem a challenge to sit through. The show is performed in Russian with English supertitles. Don’t let this scare you; if anything, this setup allows one to enjoy the proceedings both as theater and written prose (as originally intended), which has its advantages. Also, with a running time of more than three hours, it’s not an insignificant time commitment. However, for the record, not once did I glance at my watch. Above all, Shukshin’s Stories is exquisitely entertaining.

Latvian auteur director Alvis Hermanis’ work is artful but never pretentious. The production is simply but profoundly staged with minimal scenery (the sets are credited to Mr. Hermanis and Monica Pormale), which is comprised of only a single long bench and a series of manually assembled photographic panels. Additionally, the brief interludes between the vignettes are hauntingly accompanied by Pavel Akimkin’s brooding incidental music. However, what I’m most impressed with is the effortlessly physical, almost choreographed, but wholly organic ensemble work Mr. Hermanis has coaxed from his smashing cast. It’s a pure joy to see them work together to tell these stories.

Three of the eight actors – Evgeny Mironov, Chulpan Khamatova, and Julia Peresild – appeared here in last year’s Miss Julie. These Russian stars remain a wonder, particularly Mr. Mironov, who has the special ability to perform in a broad manner yet remain completely real. The trio is joined by Yulia Svezhakova, Alexander Grishin, Pavel Akimkin, Alexander Novin and Dmitriy Zhuravlev, all of whom deserve recognition for their soulful work. There are only three performances left. If you care at all about theater or the Russian spirit, I encourage you not to miss it.

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