Театральная компания ЗМ


15 апреля 2010

Nominee Tells True Stories From Soviet History

John Freedman | The Moscow Times

One production participating in the Golden Mask Festival of Russian theater is not really theater at all.

Well, of course it is theater. Theater can be anything. You can throw a rug on the ground, call over a passerby and stand on your head — and that’s theater.

What I mean is this: “I Think About You,” a production of the NET Festival and the French Cultural Center of Moscow, is not traditional theater, and it might well be a kind of theater that you do not know. I personally thought I had seen just about everything. I was wrong.
“I Think About You” was produced in Moscow in 2008. It now is in the running for an experiment award in the Golden Mask Festival, which concludes with Friday evening’s award ceremony at Gostiny Dvor.
The show is the brainchild of Didier Ruiz, a director who, over a 10-year period, created something of an international franchise of productions called “Dale Recuerdos,” or “I Think About You.” In all cases Ruiz gathered a dozen or so elderly people age 70 or older and asked them to talk about their lives. The Moscow show was the 20th that Ruiz has staged, and he has declared that it is probably his last.

I can understand why Ruiz might not want to return to this show after the results that his Moscow cast gave him. Imagine the wealth of emotions contained in two hours of personal histories told by people who survived the purges, World War II, the Thaw, the Cold War and the collapse of the country they were born in.

Bluntly put, this is at times harrowing material. I sat next to a well-known theater director who was weeping by the end of the first 15 minutes and did not stop until the show ended.
None of the performers are actors and no attempt is made to cover up their lack of “professionalism.” On the contrary, Ruiz structures the show as a homey kind of show and tell.

The actors sit facing the audience. One by one they get up, step forward and narrate a story. A couple of times, the entire group stands and approaches the front row en masse to look spectators in the eye or show off the palms and backs of their weathered hands. Each of them shows off an object that symbolizes some deep emotional attachment for them. This might be the first gift a husband gave his newlywed bride, or it might be a tiny notebook that once belonged to a father.

In short, Ruiz keeps the theatrical devices to a bare minimum, allowing the people and their stories to take center stage.
And these people, like their tales, are astonishing.
The vast majority grew up with one or no parents. For each, the tale of how his or her mother disappeared or his or her father was taken away is no mere “story.” It is a reliving of an event that crippled them in some way forever. Not every performer is able to tell that tale without breaking down, and in that very untheatrical moment — when we see real history causing real pain in real people — theater becomes an amazing place of sharing and, perhaps, healing.
One man recalls his best friend in early childhood, a youth whose father was a hero until he was arrested and murdered in the camps. After that the boy disappeared, too, until the two met by chance on Kropotkinskaya Ulitsa many years later. But instead of running toward his old friend, the young, fatherless boy ran in the other direction and was never heard from again.

“I often wondered why he did not run towards me, but ran away from me instead,” the performer stated. “And I decided it was because he could not bear the shame of what happened to his father.”
Shame is not something that I saw in any of the stories told in “I Think About You.” I saw sadness, confusion, heartache, humor, a bit of anger and, most of all, strength.

What is interesting is that strength comes in all guises — it can be bold, it can be nonchalant, it can be meek or quiet. But strength is unmistakable when you see it.

“I Think About You” is an astonishing look at Russian and Soviet history — and at the people who lived it and made it. Whether this show wins an award is beside the point. Its very existence is a supreme reward for both audiences and performers.

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