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Shukshin Stories

Shukshin Stories
Shukshin Stories
The Theatre of Nations (Moscow, Russia)
Director Alvis Hermanis
Set Designers Alvis Hermanis, Monica Pormale
Costume Viktoria Sevryukova
Performers Chulpan Khamatova, Yevgeny Mironov, Yulia Svejakova, Yulia Peresild, Alexander Grishin, Dmitry Zhuravlyov, Pavel Akimkin, Alexander Novin
Coproduction Wiener Festwochen, Theaterformen (hannover)

About the Project

It was Alvis Hermanis who originally conceived the idea of dramatizing the famous stories of Vasily Shukshin, the classic writer of the Soviet era. Hermanis has been called a “new humanist” in world theatre. One of the qualities that sets him apart as a director is the care with which he painstakingly observes the details of people's daily lives, and that is true whether he is working with contemporary characters or characters originating in the past. Some have suggested that Hermanis creates a “documentary” theatre because of the utmost precision with which he observes and interprets the real worlds that he transforms and coaxes into theatre. He creates productions exclusively about what he knows and remembers.

In this sense, Russian audiences are at a distinct advantage for, having grown up with Hermanis more or less in the same country, they share many similar memories with him. On the other hand, Hermanis's memory is unique. As rich as it is in minute detail, it never descends into a pointless nostalgia for the past, nor does it ever wallow in a vengeful rejection of the past. Hermanis has a highly developed sense of what is phony and contrived in theatre, and thus, what so often makes theatre old-fashioned and abhorrent to young audiences.

In "Shukshin's Stories" Hermanis did not ask his actors to "imitate" Soviet country bumpkins fr om the 1970s. On the contrary, he encouraged them to be contemporary people who tell simple and touching human tales that might happen to anyone and could be accessible to all. Moreover, he was adamant about maintaining Shukshin's original texts in an unadulterated form - the stories are played exactly as they were written.

The set design is a simultaneous mix of minimalism and high-tech. There is a wooden floor and a single row of wooden benches on which the actors sit. Behind them is a wall composed of photographs. Each of the ten stories included in the production has its own composition of portraits of real people which the well-known photographer Monica Pormale made during an expedition, on which the entire cast embarked to the Altai region in August of 2008.
"I had the sensation I was a violinist who was given the opportunity to play on instruments made by Stradivari and Guarneri," Hermanis declared when asked about his cast, headed by Chulpan Khamatova and Yevgeny Mironov. In August the director and his actors also spent several days in Srostki, the Siberian village wh ere Shukshin was born and grew up. 

The Shukshin Stories is a very light and easy theatrical show that looks nothing like the product of what one calls ‘the throes of creation’. It is the kind of play that seems to have staged itself and magically and effortlessly weaved and kneaded itself out of thin air and the intense feelings of love and joy. The stories unfold one after another, making us now laugh until we cry and then cry bitterly from acute empathy. Each of the eight actors plays ten or more parts. Eugeni Mironov appears now as a blind accordionist and then as a grumpy old man or a haughty village philosopher who fails the couple of town-dwelling intellectuals on a visit to the country. Chulpan Khamatova, smartly changing clothes, bearings and tones of voice, appears by turns as a stunning hip-wagging nurse, a toothless old woman, a dumb girl. The rest of the actors – Dimitri Zhuravlev, Julia Svezhakova, Julia Persild, Pavel Akimkin, Alexander Novin, Alexander Grishin – are giving splendid, virtuoso, heartfelt and amazingly joyful performances. Essentially, joy is the prime emotion this play produces.
This show runs like a gigantic swing – it takes off, it flies, it stops for a split-second of stillness and then is soaring in the air again. The tensions are building up predominantly between the characters of Chulpan Khamatova and Eugeni Mironov. The Shukshin Stories makes one acutely aware of the strict starvation diet that even the most called-for actors in this country have been kept on. … This dashing and lucid performance is an enchanting work of great talent. As you leave the theatre after it, you keep humming it as a melody, every now and then “stumbling” against a detail, an image, a lilt. And one feels much obliged to the Latvian director who has made it possible for us to meet our so well-known and so much loved personages.
“Novye Izvestia”
… The Shukshin Stories with its colorful out-of-size costumes and the delicately grotesque acting style is a very elegant and technically flawless piece of theatre. Not only the leads Chulpan Khamatova and Eugeni Mironov, but all the actors demonstrate virtuoso techniques, trying not so much to get the feel of their roles as to sketch the characters with sharp and vivid strokes. The only authentic element is the musical score that consists of the unique and deftly collected samples of folklore.
Eugeni Mironov can play anyone – the old man and the teenager, the simpleton and the sage, the rascal and the saint. He is equally capable of dancing across the stage like a rockabilly comedian and peering at us with the eyes of Dostoyevsky’s Prince Myshkin. These skills have proved perfectly handy for the actor to present the Russian character in the entire variety of his appearances and hypostases. He plays a commoner and, much like the play as a whole, convincingly asserts that all the partitions between us are sham and that deep in our hearts we are all one. And that tragic as it is, this world is populated predominantly by good people whose callings are essentially the lofty ones.

June 29, 30
Theatre on Malaya Bronnaya
3 h 40 min with intermission