Typically, Portland theater audiences have to wait until TBA rolls around to see international theater—but thanks to a partnership with the University of Portland and Artists Rep, this week the acclaimed Moscow New Drama Theatre brings the U.S.premiere of their Nastasya Filippovna to town. I saw the show last night, and despite a lot of things working against it—it's in Russian with supertitles; it's a potentially confusing retelling of The Idiot, in which scenes are shuffled at the whim of the actors—it's an excellent show, driven by outstanding performances from Mikhail Kalinichev and Andrew Kurilov.
A pre-show announcement cautions that the show is quiet and dark—this warning being apparently insufficient to persuade one audience member to to turn off the ring tone on her cellphone, FUCKING SERIOUSLY LADY???—and it is, in fact, both of those things. One of the most striking elements of Nastasya, aside from the riveting acting, is how parsimoniously light is doled out in the dark, cluttered apartment where the show is set—a lit candle here, an open curtain there. The dimness creates a sense of urgency and strain, as two men, both suitors to the beautiful and doomed Nastasya Filippovna, explore their relationships to Nastasya and to one another.
The two actors have the entirety of Dostoyevsky's The Idiot memorized. Every spoken line of dialogue comes from the book, and in theory their familiarity with the text allows the two actors to perform scenes in any order, shifting from character to character and lending the show an improvisational quality. The addition of English language supertitles necessitates at least the partial abandonment of this conceit—the show still features a shuffled chronology (it begins with the discovery of Nastaya's dead body, then marches back in time to the initial meeting of her two suitors) but translated supertitles requires that scenes proceed on a pre-determined course. If you want to see a more freely improvised version of the show, learn Russian by Sunday, and see the non-supertitled show.
The show's structure makes for an interesting hook, but is ultimately entirely incidental to the experience of watching it, at least for English-speaking audiences. The real draw here is the performances: Kalinichev and Kurilov are both incredible. I found myself resenting having to tear my eyes from the performers in order to read the supertitles at all. "Russian-language experimental adaptation of The Idiot" is an incredibly tough sell on paper, I realize, but performances like these don't come along very often, and the chance to see a show like this in Artist's Rep intimate setting shouldn't be missed.
Wed-Sat 7:30, Sun 2 pm (no supertitles on Sunday, and you get the full Russian version which runs about 2.5 hours—other shows are an hour and forty). Ticket info here.