At home with the Russians, from Berkeley's Ashby Stage to Moscow's Golden Mask festival
The company responsible for this unexpectedly wry bit of documentary theater is named Teatr.doc (pronounced "Theater Doc"). Led and financed by Elena Gremina, it's one of Moscow's scrappy independent theaters (as opposed to the state-subsidized repertory theaters employing full ensembles of actors and theater artists).
There are still several days of plays ahead at the time of this writing, but it's clear already that the independent theater has an important presence in this festival. Of the 15 productions selected for the 2012 Russia Case by curator and critic Elena Kovalskaya, the majority tends toward the experimental and more politically outspoken fare of the small independents. Three come from Teatr.doc; two more come from Moscow's Praktika Theatre, devoted exclusively to new drama. Other noteworthy names in the lineup include St. Petersburg's AKHE Engineering Theatre (two-time guests of the San Francisco International Arts Festival, who are currently collaborating with SF's own Nanos Operetta on a new work to premiere at SFIAF next year).
That evening after Two in Your House came an off-program production of famed director Dmitry Krymov's Ta-Ra-Ra Boom-De-Boom. Krymov (whose In Paris, featuring Mikhail Baryshnikov, opens at the Berkeley Rep this month) offered up a spectacular, carnivalesque processional employing 80 actors in resplendent, sometimes wild costumes and a very long conveyor-belt stage to meditate on Chekhov and the impossible century since his death, as well as a kind of relentless attempt to grapple with or transcend both.
Moscow alone has something like 115 theaters, and the variety of work on display is predictably large. Only a handful of independent theaters take on overtly political subject matter, but these have a disproportionate influence today. The premiere of Two in Your House, for example, coincided with the recent massive street protests against Putin in the wake of elections overwhelmingly perceived as rigged. Its Belarusian subject matter thus chimed effortlessly with this political moment in Russia, especially for the younger 20-something Muscovites who are the bulk of the audiences for independent theater as well as the vast majority making up the recent street demonstrations.
THE COAST OF UTOPIA: VOYAGE
Through April 29
Wed-Thu, 7pm; Fri-Sat, 8pm; Sun, 5pm, $20-$30
Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby, Berk.