Theatre: Romeo & Dzhulietta à la Russe/J.C. Superstar

Posted: December 5, 2009 in Иркутск
Tags: , , , , , , ,

On Tuesday night, I ran into another extra-curricular “committment” to keep myself well distracted from the significant, but shrinking, pile of work I have ahead of me this weekend. Hooray!

Irina Melentievna (grammar teacher), that wonderful woman, her, got her hands on tickets for the Irkutsk Dramaturgical Academy Theatre’s production of Romeo and Juliet for us. I should add that “get one’s hands on” is a good Sovietism expressed in the verb “dostat,” which she seemed especially intent on inculcating in us with some “practical meaning,” so to speak, behind it. I like that teaching style…

Patrick had tried to tell her that the show was sold out. She would not stand for this. Barely asking whether or not Romany and I wanted to go (which we did, but still…), she stopped class, picked up her cell phone, and “made a few calls.” Five minutes later, Romany and I were promised 2 tickets in our hands the next day. Irina Melentievna concluded, slightly ironically (“not ironic” isn’t included in her understanding of communication), but totally seriously, “Guys. Just look at how great Russian corruption is.”

The show was advertised in cyrillic as “Romeo and Dzhulietta,” so it was obvious it wasn’t going to be in the original. Great, we were thinking. It’s hard enough when companies do Shakespeare with British accents, let alone Russian ones.

Outside the theatre, “Romeo and Dzhulietta – U. Shakespeare” (U for Uil’yam, my middle and the Bard’s first name as per official visa spelling) was displayed on the lit-up “Repuatuar” list. Cool, I’m thinking, a translation of a good ol’ English fave. I wonder if it will be in pentameter or rhyme, right?

Wrong. The lights go down and flashing techno lights come up as the band bursts onto the stage in the half-period-dress, half-futuristic costumes of the show. They start in on one of the five or six total songs of the Russian musical version of “R + J.” Lesson in Russia No. 19704982534: Review of Lesson in Russia No. 1.

Lesson in Russia No. 1: Thou shalt never actually know what to expect here.

For much of the show, I felt overwhelmed with a lot of crisscrossed messages from the artistic design of the set, lighting, music. Notwithstanding, all of which were sensually impressive. The set consisted of two moveable walls shaped like an “L” and “7” halfway inter-linked, one gold, the other silver, representing the two battling houses. A grid of half-foot long pegs stuck in the walls made for cool shadow effects on the set, as well as provided a climbing playground for the choreographer to work with, facilitating a floating, weightless ascent to the balcony window by Romeo for his true love’s first kiss. The stage lighting itself was perfectly in synch with the show’s rhythm and mood, but the big-screen HD (ish) projector was distracting, though all the while amusing and characteristically Russian.

Still, the concept of the adaptation (there was a mirror couple of the lovers, meaning two Romeo’s and two Dzhulietta’s, who sometimes interrupted each other to finish a line, or sing a song, or creepily look into the others’ eyes, the symbolism of which was consistently vague), the music (ouch), and the mash-up of the theater’s new tech features added up to a bit of disappointment on my part since I had held high hopes that the theatre (which was great when I saw Vampilov’s The Older Brother) would do Shakespeare more justice than they did. It’s kind of like the disapointment one would feel after watching Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ, Superstar hoping to learn the Gospels.

Lesson learned in Russia No. 19704982535: Thou shalt not mess with the classics. I totally support learning a language to read literature in the original. As for the whole “making it my undergrad major” thing, well, fingers crossed it turns out good. . . . I should add that the acting in the show was good, and the final scenes of the tragedy not overdone, but at the end of the night I still left the theatre with a big question mark in my head. Nonetheless, the price and the Russian-language experience of the English were perfect.

And the successes continue.

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