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John Freedman. Lyubimov Premieres Poetic. Colorful New Play

“The Moscow Times”/ 13.05.2010

Director Yury Lyubimov's “Honey“ presents a fragmentary tale of life's losses based on the poetry of Tonino Guerra.
Tonino Guerra is one of Italy's greatest screenwriters. His collaborations with Federico Fellini, Michelangelo Antonioni, Vittorio de Sica, the Taviani brothers and others have made cinematic history.
But in a lesser-known aspect of his life, Guerra has been an honorary Russian for decades. His wife Lora is Russian; he has written poetry and novels about his Russian experiences; he worked with the great Russian film director Andrei Tarkovsky on the film “Nostalgia“; and for a time he conducted master classes at the Russian State Institute of Cinema. In theater a few years ago, Guerra created a fascinating miniature puppet show called “After the Flood” at Moscow's innovative Ten, or Shadow, Theater.
Now Yury Lyubimov and the Taganka Theater have unveiled „Honey,” a dramatic production based on a poetic work by Guerra and including music by Alfred Schnittke and Vladimir Martynov.
This fragmentary text looking backward and forward at life in a small European town suits the eclectic performance style that Lyubimov has evolved over the last decade. It tells no single traditional story, but suggests many. Its characters seem interchangeable, although strong personalities emerge from its chaos.
First and foremost, „Honey” is a collection of impressions, some bright and joyful, some sad, and others alarming.
At the center stand two brothers (Felix Antipov and Valery Zolotukhin) who grew up in Italy in the first half of the 20th century. Their lives take different paths and, inevitably, lead them to conflict. So bad is their falling out that when they die they refuse to look at each other although they hold each other's hands while lying in beds standing side-by-side.
One brother begins by telling us that he has been 70 years old for four days. This brings him to lament the fact that of all his friends and acquaintances, only nine are left now.
In short scenes that interrupt and run into one another, we see the pair observing or interacting with their eccentric mother Filomena (Lyubov Selyutina), childhood friends and other colorful townspeople, including one who became a Chinaman (Dmitry Vysotsky), a ballerina, a monk and various shoemakers.
Each spectator will have his or her own answer as to what this all means.
I can imagine someone saying Lyubimov's production of “Honey“ is about nothing, for it is disjointed and lacks coherence.
My own response would be that this is a show about what we lose and what we don't as we pass through life.
At times the production's light, colorful appearance reminded me of „Dreams,” a gorgeous, magical film made by Akira Kurosawa when he was 80. Lyubimov is 92 and, like Kurosawa when he made “Dreams,” he has every right to interpret the beauty and love that life brings as something intoxicating, fragile and transitory.
In this poetic tale by Guerra — who himself turned 90 in March — we constantly come back to the influence of nature on human life. Water, flora, fauna and wind are woven into almost every tale that is told. These are elements that once made people's lives whole and meaningful.
But one also senses that Lyubimov and Guerra both fear that we are on the verge of losing them. Will the purity, cleanliness and nurturing quality of nature become nothing but a nostalgic memory for benighted generations in the near future?
“The work of bees,“ one character tells us, “is love. They make fruits possible, and without water the bees will all disappear.“
Lyubimov has always had a flair for simple theatrical devices, and that is evident in “Honey,” too.
A beautiful „rainstorm” of red autumn leaves tossed into the air by actors accompanies a chaotic village scene of an old woman with a goat, a pair of lovers on a bicycle and a dancing ballerina.
A cherry tree in full bloom briskly rides out to the edge of the stage in a way that is both picturesque and comical in a purposefully „clumsy,” theatrical way.
In a scene suggesting wind sweeping down out of the mountains, a stage full of actors holds candles in one hand and wiggles the fingers of their other hand in front of the flame to imitate the way fire flickers in a breeze.
If this brief but hectic tale does not reach your mind or touch your heart, then these and Lyubimov's other theatrical tricks will probably strike you as too little and too obscure. However, if you connect with Guerra's and Lyubimov's affectionate, sad and humorous look at life passing by, you will take away much to cherish.


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