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Et Cetera

художественный руководитель александр калягин

главный режиссер Роберт Стуруа


Two Sides of Kharikov's Hip Design

John Freedman
"The Moscow Times" , 21.05.1998
As part of the Chekhov Festival, Mikhail Mokeyev on May 13 brought in his exhilarating production of "Romeo and Juliet from" Belgorod. That single performance followed on the heels of the premiere of Mokeyev’s production of Heinrich von Kleist’s "The Prince of Homburg" at the Et Cetera Theater. Both shows were designed by Yury Kharikov, an artist who has recently skyrocketed to the position of Russia’s hippest stage designer. Kharikov’s wildly imaginative and colorful costumes sporting tentacles, feathers and flowers, and his sets resembling ancient spaceships or underworld kingdoms, have been commissioned by directors as different as Moscow’s granddaddy of commercial theater, Mark Zakharov, and the avant-garde gadfly, Boris Yukhananov. When Kharikov won this year’s Golden Mask award as best designer, it was official acknowledgment that Russian theater has been seized by what I am tempted to call Kharikovitis. It is a condition that may be positive or negative—the determining factor is just how strong are Kharikov’s collaborators? That is, can the director avoid having his vision buried in the designer’s flights of fantasy, and are the actors able to make all the folderol work on a practical level? I have seen shows collapse beneath Kharikov’s excessive environments. The most notorious was Boris Milgram’s helpless production of "Wandering Conflagrations" at the Mossoviet Theater last year. Mercifully, it closed after a single preview. On the other hand, Vitaly Solomin’s powerful "Krechinsky’s Wedding" at the Maly Theater puts Kharikov’s breathtaking sets to spectacular use. Kharikov’s status as the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of Russian stage design is reconfirmed in the two Mokeyev shows. The humor, magic and solemnity of "Romeo and Juliet" find an ideal match in Kharikov’s funky polyvinyl chloride costumes and the stark architecture of the set. "The Prince of Homburg" is crushed by Kharikov’s exorbitance as a wispy blade of grass beneath the runners of a tank. "The Prince of Homburg" is a philosophical drama about a prince and general (Alexei Osipov) who disobeys his superiors during the battle of Ferbellin in 1675 and attacks moments before he is ordered to. It matters not that his swift action won the day; his insubordination causes him to be arrested and sentenced to death. Initially the Prince is horrified by the injustice of the verdict and is even willing to debase himself to save his skin. But when his beloved Natalya (Alyona Ivchenko) wins a reprieve by appealing to the Kurfurst Friedrich Wilhelm (Vladimir Badov), he changes his mind. He admits that without discipline, life—especially military life—would be chaos. Mokeyev obliterated the meaning of the text by having his confused cast often move in a bombastic theatrical manner while speaking in toneless, rhythmic voices. I repeatedly struggled to discern not only what was going on, but even to comprehend what was being said. Long stretches of this show merely demonstrate Kharikov’s inventiveness to no purpose. The costumes are what might result if the fruit bowl at Maxim’s were crossbred with the creatures from "Star Wars." The masked actors toil anonymously behind cascades of fruits and vines, their common denominator being the craggy fingers protruding from the folds and layers of their sleeves. The "Star Wars" connection is repeated in a film segment projected on a transparent screen during the battle—the angled writing disappearing into the distance can only be a conscious crib from opening moments of that twenty-year-old movie. In Mokeyev’s hands, the Prince’s tribulations end happily because they are merely a dream. Which leaves me suspecting that in this show there is much too much ado about absolutely nothing. […]