You’ve never seen Chekov like this!

Copyright Keith Kenney, 2012

Copyright Keith Kenney, 2012

For three nights in a row, Susanna and I saw a play directed by Levan Tsuladze at Marjanishvili Theater. Each play was outstanding for a different reason. The Decameron had spectacular sets and scenery. University of Laughs had outstanding acting. And the third play, The Lady with a Dog used puppets with actors and great sounds (dog barking) and music to tell a short story by Anton Chekov.

Tsuladze must be an extremely creative person. After seeing his three plays, I couldn’t help but ask myself, “Why aren’t University of South Carolina (or American) plays this creative?”  In addition to attributing the difference to individual genius, I think an answer might be too many resources. If you have very limited resources, perhaps you’re forced to be more creative. For example, at the beginning of the play, we saw a thin black “curtain, with a long but short hole at the bottom. In front of the curtain was the story’s narrator–a street person. Through the hole we could see the feet of soldiers, lovers, and busy people passing by. The sound effects helped make the scene very evocative.

The story is about an adulterous affair between a Russian banker and a young lady he meets while vacationing in Yalta. In the photo above, the young lady is represented by the puppet on the left. The Russian banker is the actor on the right. In between are puppets fulfilling the role of “extras.” A similar combination of puppets and actors appear in the photo to the right. The dog is played by a small puppet and its barking repeatedly brought laughter from the audience.

In Tsuladze’s version of the play, the plot is less detailed and it moves at a nice, slow pace, full of emotion. We didn’t need to read the translated words on the screen very often, and the quality of the translation was great. As a result, we could pay close attention to the wonderful details of the puppet work. Great job!

University of Laughs

Copyright Keith Kenney, 2012

We returned to Marjanishvili Theater to see another play, but this time we were seated on stage and we faced the theater of empty seats. We were in this odd position because we sat on a set of temporary bleachers, which rested on a giant rotating disk. At what would normally be the front of the stage was a very simple set and the two actors who performed University of Laughs. Near the end of the play, the disk turned the audience in a full circle as the two actors ran ahead and briefly assumed positions on other simple sets on what had been our left, rear, and right sides. Very interesting; very effective.

Here’s the plot: Set in 1940, a young playwright must submit his play to a government censor before rehearsals can begin. But the censor, who is looking for an excuse to shut down the comedy troupe, tells the writer that he needs to make a change and return the next day. Upon returning with great hopes, the writer is disappointed that another change must be made. Ironically, this cruel teasing makes the once poor-quality play better and better. Finally the play is perfected and the ending is  . . . ambiguous.

I apologize, but I couldn’t understand whether the censor had grown to like just the play or if she liked both the play and the play writer. The subtitle translations were better, but their timing off, which hurt my ability to understand some of the play’s meaning.

A spectacular spectacle

We had the pleasure of attending a performance of The Decameron at Marjanishvili Theater in Tbilisi. This theater has a very deep stage and rows upon rows of lights above. The theater is small, and its glory days have faded a bit, but it’s a wonderful space.

Our “daughter” Nini Chakvetadze tipped us that this play, and two others, would have subtitles in English. Indeed, there was a small screen to the side of the stage, but, unfortunately, we found it difficult to “interpret” the English. It seemed as if someone had used Google Translator to translate the original Italian into Georgian and then had again used Google Translator, but this time to translate Georgian into English. Never mind. We loved the performance.

Why? Because of the wonderful work by the director, set designer, and “scenographer?” Levan Tsuladze! With tremendous imagination and a relatively low budget Levan told this story in a most exciting manner.

Here’s the basic storyline (from Wikipedia): The Decameron is a 14th-century medieval allegory encompassing 100 tales by ten young people. It was probably composed between 1350 and 1353 and it includes bawdy tales of love, wit, practical jokes, and life lessons.

My favorite scene was the last one. If I understood it correctly, the message is that there is so much sin in the world–we are all sinners–but in the end, Gabriel will blow his horn and life will begin anew. To visualize this message, a few actors used tall poles to hold a thin piece of material high overhead. They carried the material from the back of the stage to the front, and then down a few stairs to the audience, and then to the back of the theater. We were ALL covered by the cloth–we are all sinners. I took the photo moments at the beginning of this scene.

Copyright Keith Kenney, 2012