Monday, February 8, 2010

More familiar faces at Russian theater festival

Ron Pullins won't be the only familiar face for local theater-goers who attend the New England Russian Theatre Festival. The four-day festival, which boasts 25 Russian-themed one-acts, will also include two full-length shows that dig, TMZ-style, deep into the love lives of the Russian literati and were staged in Newburyport over the past two years — Ludmila Anselm's full-length "Chekhov's Last Love," staged last year at the North Shore Readers Theatre Collaborative, and Firouzeh Mostashari and Wendy Lement's "The Woman With the Red Kerchief," which Theater in the Open put on two years ago in Maudslay State Park. That's them on the left.

Mostashari and Lement, former educational director of the Newburyport Children’s Theater, look at Leo Tolstoy’s late-in-life obsession with a 23-year-old married woman named Askina who was a serf on the so-called nobleman’s estate and who became pregnant by Tolstoy not long before he tied the knot with his more class-suitable financee Sonya Behrs, but whose son was never acknowledged by the literary big shot and hypocrite as his own. Such things, of course, are not so uncommon. And, if you believe his journals, Tolstoy never saw her again after he married. He just wanted to ... a lot. He returned to the issue of the pretty serf girl in his stories and his journals, touching directly on these events, but the character of the temptress changes over the years. The carefree and coquettish girl in the early stories becomes something of a gold-digger in the later work. Tolstoy later immortalized this John Edwards-like chapter of his life in “The Devil,” which has two endings: In one, the nobleman kills himself. In the other, he kills the girl.

Amselm's piece explores the relationship of Anton Chekhov and his actress wife, Olga Knipper, and the creation of the legendary Moscow Art Theatre. The play takes audiences through the days when Chekhov wrote "Three Sisters" and "The Cherry Orchard," in which Olga was to perform. It is the latest in a series of works about homegrown writers for the Russian-born playwright, who studied at Leningrad State University and worked for two decades as an experimental physicist before beginning her career as a writer. Her “Rehearsal of ‘The Idiot’” deals with the relationships of F.M. Dostoevsky and his first wife, Maria Dmitrievna, a likely model for Natalya Phillipovna, a major character in “The Idiot.” Amelm is a member of the Dramatists Guild of America and Boston Playwrights’ Platform. The Chekov play had its first reading at Shadowboxing Theatre Workshop in Boston. It got a second reading just about a year ago at North Shore Readers Collaborative Theater.

JUST THE FACTS, MAN: The New England Russian Theatre Festival runs Feb. 18 to 21 at the Boston Playwrights' Theatre, 949 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston. The festival will include interactive, education workshops in Russian-based acting techniques and playwrighting. More than 100 international artists are participating. A portion of the festival’s proceeds will be given to Wide Horizons For Children. For the complete schedule and ticket information, click here. For a peek at the trailer for the festival, click here.

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