26, Arbat Ul.
Moscow's theatrical cup is brimming over. Premieres follow one after another and theaters are hurriedly renewing their repertoires. Vakhtangov Theater, one of Moscow's oldest, is not out of the race and now presents a new interpretation of the old and frequently staged story of Russian writer, Nikolai Leskov, or "Levsha".
Levsha, the story about Russian craftsmen who shoe a flea, remains quite topical today as Russia still has an abundance of talented craftsmen living in limbo in the provinces. Facing a strong influence of European and American cultures and lifestyle, Russia is looking for ways to assert its own identity.
Woven through the play is the spirit of pathetic Russian patriotism. Replying to an ultimatum from a foreign country, a Russian Tzar shouts in fury: "Who said our resources are inferior to theirs? Who said our fleet and cannons are toys? Our craftsmen will get the better of theirs!"
The flea (Nonna Grishayeva) used to love foreign melodies and dances but after being shod by Russian craftsmen, she began to walk and sing like a genuine Russian character. Everybody praised Levsha (Oleg Lopukhov) for his craftsmanship and noble robber Platova (Maria Aronova) for having found such a dexterous and inventive blacksmith.
However, unlike Leskov's novel, the new play directed by Alexander Gorban has no happy ending. In the novel, Levsha and Platova were rewarded for their efforts, while in the play the noble robber is sent into exile and Levsha is sent back to his native town, Tula, in mid-winter without any provisions. He freezes to death on the way and the hospitals en route refuse him admittance. Earlier, the rich foreigners had invited Levsha to their parlors promising lavish pay, but he refused. A truly edifying story!
In his portrayal of Russians and foreigners, Alexander Gorban does not try too hard to stick to the story-line. He employs well-known cliches, like lapti, sarafany and kosovorotki for Russians and camisoles, top hats and minuets for foreigners. Whilst funny, the play is deeply dramatic.