Published in The Moscow Times: February
Vasily Shukshin is one of the cultural figures from Soviet times whose works easily made the leap into a new era. Shukshin's short stories, the movies he based on them and the characters he played in those films all remain popular and entirely accessible to a contemporary audience. All you need to verify my claim is to check out the Theater of Nations' production of Shukshin's Stories. You can almost hear the audience's collective heart melting as the show's comic episodes advance from one to the next.
Shukshin, who died at the age of 45 in 1974, was one of those natural wonders, a native of Siberia. He came with the toughness, the wisdom, the clarity and the wicked sense of humor that geographical location instills in its native sons and daughters. Perhaps taking inspiration from the short but glorious Siberian springs and summers, Shukshin excelled at writing brief, pithy stories. They almost always were about simple folk,
Shukshin's Stories is a potpourri consisting of 10 segments drawn from different tales. It was directed by Alvis Hermanis, the founder of and mastermind behind the New Riga Theater in Latvia.
Hermanis, making his directing debut in Russia with this show, brought an almost aggressively light touch to his work. No matter what the tale — a young man hoping to marry a tantalizing woman he sees on the street; a son returning to visit his family after building a successful life in the big city; a clumsy worker buying a pair of boots as a gift for his
One might quibble that Shukshin's Stories is more of a love fest than Shukshin probably intended. In fact, his tales are
Headed, though not dominated, by the stars Yevgeny Mironov and Chulpan Khamatova, the cast sometimes works overtime to bring an
This show's limits are highlighted by what is arguably its greatest strength — the set devised by Hermanis and Monica Pormale. It consists of four benches on an empty stage backed by enormous panels bearing photographs Pormale took in Shukshin's home village of Srostki, in the Altai region. Pormale's photos, especially her extremely detailed portraits of actual village residents, provide an undeniable authenticity that the actors rarely can compete with. As I stared into the wizened features of an old blind man's face in a digitally detailed, 2.5-meter
Also impressive in a way that undermines the production's authenticity are the rousing recorded performances of folk music that accompany the transitions between segments while the panels with Pormale's photos are moved on and off the stage. As we listen to the inspiring choral performances, we once again are reminded of the gap separating what is real from what is imitation.
Setting such nitpicking aside, however, one would be
Shukshin's Stories (Rasskazy Shukshina), a production of the Theater of Nations, plays Feb.