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An Intimate Observation (Orinthology) by Alexander Stroganov

: by M. Louise McKay at 11:17PM (EDT) on April 5, 2006 | Permanent Link

An Intimate Observation (Ornithology) by Alexander Stroganov, Chekhov Moscow Art Theater
Review by John Freedman
Published in The Moscow Times, November 1998

An Intimate Observation at the Chekhov Moscow Art Theater marks several firsts. With this show, Alexander Dzekun makes his Moscow debut. At one time, through his work at the Saratov Drama Theater of which he was the artistic director for some fifteen years, Dzekun acquired the reputation of one of Russias top directors. A couple of years ago, dissension among the troupe at his theater brought about his ouster and he has now set his sights on the capital.

Furthermore, this is the initial production of first-time playwright Alexander Stroganov, who by profession is a psychologist in Siberia. It also marks the Art Theater debut of actress Natalya Merts, who previously worked for Dzekun in the provinces.

This certainly is not the way these newcomers imagined making their first appearances in Moscow.

Stroganovs hallucinatory play, originally entitled Ornithology in regards to one of the characters fascination with birds, is ostensibly about a strange brother and sister pair who psychologically attack an acquaintance by pushing him into the trap of his own sexual desires. But, being a purposefully obtuse journey through the landscapes of the deepest and darkest recesses of the human mind, it seldom becomes drama. It is marred by all the formulas and strategies that a psychologist wishing to be a playwright might put into his work.

This problem is exacerbated by Dzekuns direction, which, over the course of nearly three hours, usually has the actors sitting on two chairs and talking back and forth across the stage. Merts, as the sister Tanya, toys with her visitor Savva (Sergei Shekhovtsov) largely through exaggerated voice intonations and physical poses. When her brother Lyonechka (Igor Zolotovitsky) enters the equation in the second act and drives Savva to make revelatory admissions about himself, he is pompous and demonstrative.

Designer Alla Kozhenkova provided an attractive set a skewed, white and silver interior that is covered in front by a huge semi-circle of vertical blinds and in the back recedes gradually to a distant, arched window. At key moments a red drape on the floor bubbles up surrealistically. But there is something vulgar, something distinctly overdone in the beauty of this environment. Like the play and Dzekuns interpretation of it, it is too loaded with impenetrable symbolic significance to hold our interest for long.

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