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Yogi Berra, one of the all-time great baseball players and an eminent American folk figure, once said it better than anyone else ever has: “It ain?t over ?til it?s over.”

And folks — the 2008-09 theater season is over. What that means is that it?s time to unveil the prestigious annual Moscow Times Theater Awards, the only prestigious theater awards I know of in this town that make any sense. True, I?m the one who picks them. In any case, for those who are interested, this is - gulp! — the 17th time we have done this.

Trend of the Year: Let?s call this the honorary Sorrows of Young Werther citation. Teenagers, dropouts, summer camp-goers, high school students and preteens are getting their stories told in a flood of new plays. The phenomenon wasn?t exclusive to this season, but it was far more prominent than in the past. Plays like “Life Is Grand,“ “The Third Period,“ “Pulya,“ “Piggy and Carp“ and „Trash” at the Playwright and Director Center, Teatr.doc and Praktika indicate that the nation continues to experience growing pains.

Sign of the Times: „Shukshin?s Stories” directed by Alvis Hermanis at the Theater of Nations. Slick, professional, light, cute and endlessly crowd pleasing. This was the hit of the season with spectators who, in a lusty roar of cheers, drowned out my feeble desire for a bit more substance.

Talk Is Not Cheap: TV talk-show host Alexander Gordon turned in an impressive performance in „The House” by Yevgeny Grishkovets and Anna Matison at the Contemporary Play School. In this show that transpires not on a stage but among seats chaotically strewn around the hall, Gordon?s blend of charm, cynicism and intellect suited him well as he played a doctor spurned by his friends when he needs a small loan.

Magnificent Monologue: Polina Kutepova in Yevgeny Kamenkovich?s dramatization of James Joyce?s „Ulysses” at the Fomenko Studio. The five-hour, 40-minute performance may have had its ups and downs, but Kutepova?s handling of Molly Bloom?s famous final monologue, all 30 minutes of it, was scintillating.

Silent Man: Alexander Porokhovshchikov in Roman Kozak?s production of Biljana Srbljanovic?s “Locusts“ at the Pushkin Theater. Saying just a few words throughout the entire show, this astonishing performer proved again that great acting is all about presence, having something to say and finding ways of doing that through the eyes, gestures and, sometimes, by just being there. I?ve never seen anyone do more with less than Porokhovshchikov did here.

Fearless Woman: Yelena Koreneva in Andrii Zholdak?s production of “Moscow. Psycho” at the Contemporary Play School. This show irritated many with its loud, crass take on pop culture wreaking havoc on modern life. I loved it and thought that Yelena Koreneva was superb as the Medea-figure who went ballistic as her life went berserk.

Best New Play: „Trash” by Mikhail Durnenkov at the Playwright and Director Center. This exploration of a writer trying to make sense of the world he inhabits is fragmented, obscure and challenging. It is also a sensitive, insightful portrayal of people trying to measure up to the daunting task of being human in the 21st century.

Best Production: „Opus No. 7” directed by Dmitry Krymov, with music by Alexander Bakshi and Dmitry Shostakovich, at the School of Dramatic Art. This breathtaking work of images and sounds was theater like no one else makes it. In two acts, Krymov took on the extermination of the Jews in Eastern Europe by the Nazis and the nightmare that Shostakovich lived under the yoke of Soviet cultural bureaucrats. But the kicker was this: The show was beautiful, inventive and inspiring.

Master Teacher: Konstantin Raikin at the Satirikon Theater. Raikin actually joined a student cast in Alexander Ostrovsky?s “Life Is No Bed of Roses“ in order to give them real experience in how this acting thing is done. As director of Carlo Gozzi?s “The Blue Monster,“ he turned his main stage over to a large cast of unknowns and had them flying, flipping and leaping as well as emoting at the necessary moments. Raikin continues to be one of the architects of Moscow theater?s future.

New Kid on the Block: Marat Gatsalov. This young director coaxed veracity, intensity and plenty of cool nonchalance from his actors in “Trash” and „Life Is Grand” (co-directed with Mikhail Ugarov).

Quiet Excellence: Kirill Pirogov in Pyotr Fomenko?s production of Yuly Kim?s Shakespeare adaptation, „The Tale of Arden Forest,” at the Fomenko Studio. Pirogov appeared to be doing nothing at all as he played the mysterious, laid-back Melancholy Jacques, a man seeking solitude and dignity in self-imposed exile. By curtain time, he had defined the entire show.

Unexpected Debutante: A star actor for 50 years, Valentin Gaft isn?t someone you?d expect to head a list of beginners. But his first play “Gaft?s Dream Retold by Viktyuk” at the Sovremennik was an impressive study of the legacy Joseph Stalin has had on the Russian psyche. It also provided Gaft with the material to deliver one of the most subtly powerful performances I saw this season.

Small is Big: Sergei Zhenovach opened the new small stage at his Studio of Theatrical Art with one of the season?s biggest successes — an exquisite dramatization of Andrei Platonov?s story, “The River Potudan.“ This beautiful, unsettling and achingly intimate work tackled nothing less than the fragility and tenaciousness of love, one of our favorite topics.

Hot Property: Pavel Pryazhko had progressive theaters scrambling to stage his plays “Life is Grand“ (at Praktika and a joint production at the Playwright and Director Center and Teatr.doc) and „The Third Period” (Joseph Beuys Theater at Fabrika). For the reasons why, see Trend of the Year.

Otherworldly Actress: Anastasia Marchuk in Natalya Moshina?s „Pulya” at the Playwright and Director Center. Marchuk?s Pulya, a girl struggling to grow up in a confusing world, began as a fetus, transformed into a sexually

mature adult and brought us glimpses from the afterlife — all in the course of 90 minutes. She did it with a sensitivity and vulnerability that made her character irresistible.

Impossible Hero: Roman Kirillov as the Nazi playwright in Mel Brooks? “The Producers“ at the Et Cetera Theater. I never thought of “Fascist“ and „huggable” in the same breath before seeing this crazy performance that would have had Freud panting like Pavlov?s dog.

Inspired Pas de Trois: Choreographer/Director Alla Sigalova, actress Chulpan Khamatova and dancer Andrei Merkuryev in „Poor Liza” at the Theater of Nations. This hybrid work mixing dance, drama, an 18th-century story (by Nikolai Karamzin) and a 20th-century opera (by Leonid Desyatnikov) emerged as a crisp, moving and timeless tale about a woman who finds the love she was looking for and pays dearly for that privilege.

Divine Magicians: The Thierree-Chaplin family, heirs to the genius of Charlie Chaplin and the hallowed tradition of the traveling performer, who held court for the month of June as participants in the Chekhov International Theater Festival. Jean-Baptiste Thierree and wife Victoria Chaplin wowed us with “Le Cirque Invisible,” a riveting combination of magic tricks and illusionary transformations. Son James and daughter Aurelie Thierree brought their own shows — “Au Revoir Parapluie“ and „L?Oratorio d?Aurelie” respectively — which expressed their makers? distinct and contemporary personalities while paying homage to an ancient form of itinerant entertainment.


John Freedman will return at the end of August but will continue to write his blog on The Moscow Times web site.