NABOKV-L post 0010528, Fri, 5 Nov 2004 09:03:21 -0800

Nabokov's "Laughter in the Dark" running in Moscow under the name
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Date: Thu, 04 Nov 2004 22:35:36 -0500
From: "Sandy P. Klein" <>
Subject: Moscow's School of Contemporary Plays Theater ...
[2] Valery Nistratov for The New York Times\'Seagull\' Served 3 Ways
on Russian Stage Menu[3]
Moscow's School of Contemporary Plays Theater performed all three
versions of "The Seagull" in a daylong marathon commemorating the
100th anniversary of Anton Chekhov's death. [4]

November 4, 2004



OSCOW, Nov. 3 - "We need new art forms," despairs Treplev, the
sensitive young writer who shoots himself in Anton Chekhov's
"Seagull." "New forms are wanted, and if they aren't available, we
might as well have nothing at all."

Moscow's School of Contemporary Plays Theater, housed in a former
restaurant where Chekhov dined, took his speech to heart and set a
very Russian record on Oct. 23, performing all three versions of "The
Seagull" in its repertory in a daylong marathon commemorating the
100th anniversary of the author's death.

Iosif Raikhelgauz, the theater's artistic director, who directed all
three plays, was presented a certificate confirming the "three
performances of 'The Seagull' in three different genres by the same
troupe" as a national record. PARI, a local information agency that
keeps track of such things, said the feat was under consideration as
a Guinness world record.

The roles of Arkadina, a vain actress, of her lover the writer
Trigorin and of Zarechnaya, the provincial ingénue he seduces, were
performed by the same actors in all three versions.

The triptych, torture by seagull for those unaccustomed to so much
Russian angst in one sitting, started with Chekhov's original "comedy
in four acts" as he called it, about the tangled musings and passions
of Russian intelligentsia on a country estate. A mystery version
turns Treplev's suicide into a murder, and an operetta complete with
chorus and cancan ends with a Champagne cork popping rather than a
gun firing and a flock of stuffed seagulls descending onto the stage.

Mr. Raikhelgauz, who introduced "The Seagull" into his stock of
otherwise contemporary plays after being invited to stage it in
Rochester, said Russian stage interpretations of Chekhov need a jolt
of new life.

"Chekhov is very hard to watch in the theater," Mr. Raikhelgauz
said, pausing to take in operetta tunes over the theater intercom
during a performance earlier this year. "He often writes pauses. He
means higher emotional pressure, but here people think, 'Be silent
and it will be even more boring.' ''

That is the wrong approach, he said.

"Chekhov was a very fun person," Mr. Raikhelgauz said.

He would have to be to appreciate the contemporary mystery and
operetta versions of the "The Seagull." The mystery is by Boris
Akunin, the pen name of Grigory Chkhartishvili, whose detective
novels set in the 19th-century are hugely popular in Russia. Random
House is Mr. Akunin's American publisher, and it brought out "Murder
on the Leviathan" last spring.

In a wicked parody on modern morals, Mr. Akunin depicts Trigorin as
a bisexual who had been infatuated with Treplev, the son of his
lover, Arkadina. Treplev in turn may have impregnated Masha, the
lovesick daughter of the estate overseer, in a drunken indiscretion
even as he pined for Zarechnaya.

For all their motives, the murderer turns out to be Dr. Dorn, the
dashing, intellectual, country doctor, in this version a covert
animal rights activist who avenges the seagull Treplev had shot to
impress Zarechnaya.

Sergei Yursky, a famous Russian actor and writer who has performed
in Mr. Raikhelgauz's theater and starred in a seminal version of
Chekhov's "Three Sisters" in the 1960's, dismissed the idea of
playing with Chekhov's texts after watching the operetta.

"There are notes," he said. "You can't play them backwards. Chekhov
is not lower than Mozart. You have to play them as written."

Vadim Zhuk, a poet, fashioned the libretto by turning Chekhovian
turns of phrase into lyrics. The operetta's dialogue is almost word
for word from Chekhov's original.

The operetta was conceived in 2002 by Alexander Zhurbin, a film and
stage composer, who wrote the first Soviet rock opera, "Orpheus and
Eurydice," in the 1970's and moved to New York in 1990. Inspirations
for his other musical productions include works by Isaac Babel,
Sholom Aleichem and Vladimir Nabokov. Nabokov's "Laughter in the
Dark" is currently running in Moscow under the name "Lips."

" 'The Seagull' is very musical and lyrical," Mr. Zhurbin said.

"I think a huge number of Russian classics can be turned into
musicals," he added. "Why not a wonderful musical 'Anna Karenina?' ''

In "The Seagull" operetta, Mr. Raikhelgauz sees a Russian
alternative to flashy American-style musicals. "Musicals contradict
Russian theater,'' he said. "Operettas are natural." He has raised
the operetta's marquee value by inviting Alyona Sviridova, a jazz-pop
star most famous for a song called "Pink Flamingo," to alternate in
the role of Arkadina with Irina Alfyorova, a popular actress with a
weak voice.

Jerrold Morgulas, chairman of the Manhattan-based National Music
Theater Network, is working with Mr. Zhurbin to stage an
English-language version of the Chekhov operetta off Broadway.

"The score is delightful," he said by telephone from New York. "I
love Chekhov. I don't find a problem with an operetta. I find it very

Here in Moscow, Mr. Akunin's mystery and the operetta play to packed
houses, but some audience members are appalled by this toying with the
canon. A man who said he was a psychiatrist stomped out after the
mystery. "I have to deal with such problems every day at the
hospital," he said. "Why would I want to see this in the theater?"

A young Russian lawyer who said he had reread Chekhov's original the
morning he went to see the operetta denounced it as "vulgar."

For all of Chekhov's iconic status, his anniversary has had none of
the tacky pomp that in 1999 accompanied the 200th anniversary of the
birth of Pushkin. Still, Moscow stages have seen a Chekhov boom with
other new productions of "The Seagull," "Uncle Vanya," "Three
Sisters" and "The Cherry Orchard."

Alevtina Kuzicheva, a Chekhov scholar, called the author too
penetratingly moral for the Russian elite of "oligarchs and public
officials" who happily celebrated Pushkin. But she welcomed efforts
like the operetta to reach a new audience raised in the video age and
likely never to have seen the original.

" 'The Seagull' is always a symptom of misfortune, and of new
tendencies in art, a reaction to a borderline state in art, the need
for change in style and form," she said. "So maybe these escapades of
Raikhelgauz are a symptom." [5]


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