In Paris


REVIEW by Willard Manus

Russian theatre is not only alive and well, it is doing some remarkable things. A case in point is IN PARIS, a play adapted from the Ivan Bunin short story by Dmitry Krymov, who currently teaches at the Russian Academy of Theatre Arts in Moscow.

Krymov, who is also a painter, has teamed up with Mikhail Baryshnikov on IN PARIS; the latter (the most celebrated dancer of his time) not only agreed to act in the play but to help Krymov develop it at his own arts center in NYC. The result of their collaboration is simply astounding.

IN PARIS, which has been seen previously in Helsinki, Paris and Tel Aviv, features Baryshnikov as a Russian general who, having fought on the losing side in the revolution, is reduced to scratching out a living in 1930s Paris. In his faded army greatcoat, surrounded by images of his past glory, he is a sad, lonely little man struggling, in Chaplinesque fashion, to keep up a dignified, courtly facade.

After introducing himself via a brief monologue (heard in a voice-over), the general enters a small cafe ("in one of the dark lanes near Passy") and meets its Russian waitress (Anna Sinyakina) another refugee washed up here by the tides of history. The two of them enter into a tender, fragile love affair.

Bunin's short story, adapted by Krymov and translated into English by Regina Kozakova, is just a few pages long. Its spare, bare-bones text has been fleshed out in miraculous fashion by Krymov and his 7-person company. Their cinematic, precisely- choreographed moves are enhanced by Maria Tregubova's ingenious set and costume designs, and by Damir Ismagilov's atmospheric lighting scheme.

IN PARIS has very little dialogue; Bunin's story is mostly heard (over) and seen, via Tei Blow's video projection. Against that ever-inventive audio and video backdrop, Baryshnikov and Sinyakina play out their May-December romance with many raffish comic touches (such as suddenly launching into an aria from Carmen), but for the most part the lovers treat each other tentatively and gravely, knowing one of them might break in two at any moment.

IN PARIS is in Russian and French with English supertitles. This beautifully realized production is a winner in any language. A touring show, it played recntly at the Broad Stage, Santa Monica Performing Arts Center.