Apr 5, 2013

Russian Flashback

in Light My Fire at Teatr.doc
This time last year, thanks to the generosity of the Center for International Theatre Development, I was in Moscow to cover the Golden Mask festival, a sort of annual best-of Olympics of Russian theater--though I heard a lot of internal contention from theater-makers about the politics of who was and wasn't competing, who got state money and who didn't, about the dominance of Moscow over the regions. They're tussles that shared certain recognizable features with the arguments you hear in American theater circles, though with different implications and histories, given Russia's vastly different literary and economic traditions.

The most striking affinity I felt, though, was with the underground-ish indie theater of places like Teatr.doc and Praktika in Moscow and On.Teatr in St. Petersburg, the latter of which staged Annie Baker's Aliens a few years back (and which is having problems with its basement space). These spaces were clearly the Soho Reps and NY Theatre Workshops of Russia, embracing such new-for-them forms as docu-theater and devised work with a bracing matter-of-factness and lack of dogma. Let's just say I didn't expect to see this in the land of Stanislavsky:
The strongest Golden Mask offering from this indie-theatre scene exemplified a freewheeling aesthetic eclecticism that might be recognized by fans of Austin, Texas’s Rude Mechanicals. Sasha Denisova’s Light My Fire (also at Teatr.doc) blends documentary techniques with sketch comedy and rock-and-roll, giving dead-by-27 rockers Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix a remix at once both raucous and intimate. In Denisova’s beguiling conceit, actors slip effortlessly between broad, ballsy stabs at Famous Rock Moments—some lip-synched to loud playback, some screamingly funny, all stunningly successful—and quiet diary readings from the actors’ own contemporary Russian lives that redirect the larger story’s pop-cultural, and countercultural, currents in fresh and provocative ways. I doubted that anyone could make the legendary music and mayhem of these three overexposed icons feel freshly revolutionary, but that’s exactly what Denisova and company, under director Yury Muravitsky, have done.
John Freedman, the indispensable American expat/Russian theatrical ambassador, has posted a PDF of my story online here (the text is also here, somehow).

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