Scenes Like Old Times

Yuri Yakovlev and Yulia Borisova in Innocent as Charged: merrily we role along.
photo: courtesy of the Vakhtangov Theatre
Yuri Yakovlev and Yulia Borisova in Innocent as Charged: merrily we role along.

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Innocent as Charged
By Alexander Ostrovsky
Vakhtangov Theatre
Lincoln Center Festival (Closed)

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Not that I mean to be invidious about Borisova, who did her work with care and dignity; she shared acting honors, in the evening's final two-thirds, with Mikhail Uliyanov, the company's artistic director, who played the low comedian Shmaga with an intriguingly dry mix of clowning and acerbic self-irony. The simple truth is that Fomenko's conception would have served the play very well if he had had the imagination, his actors the taste and integrity, to support it. That the bulk of the event had no style, no fire, and no grace wasn't the fault of the company's age but of its seeming disconnection from the goings-on. Apart from those I've singled out, and the vivid but random histrionics of Evgeni Kniazev as the wayward son, the performance merely plodded along. Instead of buoying up the staginess, the cast took it on as a kind of Pirandello-tinged imitative fallacy: a boring provincial actress, in the role of a boring provincial actress, mimicking a boring provincial actress. As Vakhtangov's great American contemporary Arthur Hopkins once wrote, "When an actor believes himself to be on thin ice, he invariably steps down harder." Our guests from Moscow, who know all about snow and ice, will surely understand. One wants to be sympathetic: Life has been especially rough on them these past few decades. But other visiting troupes from Russia have shown us that directing and acting have not been trampled underfoot in the country's economic chaos. And if a sense of Ostrovsky's values could survive, as it did, the horrors of the Soviet era, it ought to be flourishing now, when the upheavals in Russian life are so much like those he lived through.

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