Theater & the Theatre
When I finally wake, it is 9:30. Ear plugs are amazing things. I slept through Kendra getting up and pumping 3 times and showering and heading off to breakfast without waking me up.
I throw on jeans and a scarf around my hair and go down to breakfast. The gal behind the buffet asks me something in Russian. Not only am I barely awake but I really should have learned to speak some Russian before I came on this trip. In very careful English she says:
Room number? Ah, yes. 202.
Spasibo. Thank you.
I love a buffet in a different country. I have absolutely no idea what I am going to get. An egg soufflé type thing that I can’t quite figure out. It is fluffy and cut into rectangular squares and for the next 2 weeks I eat it every where – I never do figure it out)
A variety of pork breakfast items. Hard boiled eggs. Yoghurt.
Beautiful cabbage salads of a few varieties, and pastries. Good Lord. Gloriously flakey, unique, filled and topped pastries of many varieties. None of which I can eat. Save it for the blog about food.
As I leave the hotel for the theater, I am very pleased that I downloaded my Here We Go app recommended in Money magazine. Offline maps – yes! We are outside of the city center but it is still quite bustling. Giant apartment buildings that kind of look like the projects – but only in their uniformity and size. A cat comes towards me and acts like he wants to be petted and then darts off through a tiny portal into the underground of a building. There are flower pots hanging below the street signs.
All of the streets are marked in Cyrillic only, however the map has the street names in the English alphabet, and they don’t match.
Theater Buff. A large austere building with a beautiful, inviting courtyard.
I go to the stage door and there is a man just coming on shift as he puts on a tie. I point to my Track 3 t-shirt and he motions to wait. I type on my google translate I am here to rehearse and again he motions to me to wait. He hands me a wrapped candy instead and puts on his security guard jacket. The candy is a caramel kind of something with nougat chunks. Tasty. He takes me to the lobby. Shows me the pictures of artists on the wall. “Famous” he says. He takes me to the theater and sure enough I find our crew. I say thank you.
There is a gold mantle on the stage. It is a huge step up from our previous mantles. This one looks like it goes in a house. Off stage right is a giant birthday cake. I wish we could use it but Olga would have to wheel it on stage.
We go down to a rehearsal room that has mirrors and ballet barres. We have a long warm-up. It takes a good full hour before my body, that has spent the previous 30 hours straight seated, wakes up.
We rehearse and work a few spots. Lunch up to the 6th floor. I have the cold borscht and whitefish with eggplant and rice with dill. There are all of these beautiful fresh veggies cut up to nosh on. Cucumber, red peppers and radish and what appears to be flat parsley.
There is a compote drink that is sweet but I am not sure what the fruit/veggie inside it is. Would taste great on ice with some fresh mint. I will not have ice for the next 14 days. For the same reason that you can’t get ice in Mexico, or China or many other places in the world. Because you shouldn’t drink the water.
Vladimir is our producer. I met him for the first time at the airport. He sits at the last table that is set only for one. I ask him if I can join him as we at the 3 sisters table have had more than one meal together. Vladimir is originally from St. Petersburg. You can see a sense of pride in this fact. The same kind of pride you can see in the people on the street.
He tells me that he has lived in the US since he had to leave in the 1980’s. He was given the option to go to another country or go to jail. I can see that he misses it. He has been producing mostly music acts. This is the first play he has brought to Russia. Quite a risk. He will stay on after us to tour a jazz band.
It turns out that the American Consulate is actually the one hosting us. They found the money through grants and endowments.
(When we meet them later there is a fascinating conversation about how it all works and how it has shifted with our current administration. The mandate has become that public affairs and culture aren’t a priority and 30% across the board-across the world is expected to be cut by the end of the year. They don’t usually bring plays over here but this has been in the works for a couple of years now. Quite a risk.)
I ask Vladimir how people feel about Putin. He says that critical-thinking people have never liked him. But he was very popular in the beginning. He says that people are realizing how corrupt things really are. The night before we arrived there were hundreds of people arrested from the square in St. Petersburg and the Red Square in Moscow. People, mostly young people, had flooded the squares protesting corruption. He says the young people don’t have any fear of the government like the previous generations do. He hopes that they won’t have to and they will be able to shift the tide.
I ask Vladimir how Russians feel about Americans. Do they hate us?
There is a pause. “Wary. They are coming around,” he says. He urges me to understand the massive amount of anti-American propaganda that is spread and has been spread over decades. I mention that our own Cold War propaganda has dominated our view for decades too. He asserts that it is not the same though. Some is warranted on both sides but the tactics and lies on the part of the Russian government are…I’m not sure I heard clearly what the next part was. I feel keenly aware of my fixed point of view and maybe we all have one of our own country.
We finish and go back to the hotel to clean up. Vladimir is taking us into St. Petersburg to the theater tonight. The Bol’shoy Dramaticheskiy Teatr. The company is doing a version of Dostoevsky’s The Gambler. It will be avante-garde and very Russian.
No, you should not have worn the cute shoes, Dylan. You should have worn the flats and you know it.
Yes, you were a genius for bringing a power bar because no, we will not have dinner before the show.
No, there is no Diet Coke in Russia. Not before the show, not when I am still on California time and it is 3 am to me. No, none for you. And yes, it will be 10:30 pm before you sit down for dinner.
The theater is stunning. A very well visited palace. Vladimir has arranged a tour of the theater’s museum. I am blown away by the production pictures and costume watercolor drawings and the stage dioramas. The level of drama and fervor and specificity in every aspect of production is extraordinary.
While the tour director was taking us through, an entire crew of young women ushers in black blouses with long black skirts assembled in the stairway and chatted until they were silenced by the person who was obviously in charge, who then pointed at us.
During this tour, they pointed to a production they did of the American play “Our City”. Did you mean “Our Town”?
Yes, yes, yes. My apologies. Our Town. We didn’t believe it could possibly work. Everyone is seated the entire play. But surprisingly, it did work. Maybe there is something to it.
One of the productions was Three Sisters and Masha’s costume was on display. I got goosebumps over my entire body.
Once we finished our tour, the lobby and foyer and bar and common areas were all teeming with people. I noticed some people had bouquets of flowers. I wonder if they have friends in the cast.
The theater itself is delicious – a 500 person seating. We are all the way down in front on house right. The chairs are fancy, like dining chairs with a rococo flair and are individually linked together.
The show is a spectacular extravaganza of movement, dance, song, exploding enthusiasm and very deep monologues with the malaise of all that life’s ennui can contain. It is rich and colorful and dark and mysterious and light as a feather. I have no idea what it is about as it is in Russian.
The most thrilling and informative part of the evening was the curtain call. Once it started there were Bravos and the Russian rhythmic clapping. People came down to the stage and delivered flowers to the cast. The cast went off and came back on. This went on for 10 minutes. It was such a beautiful exchange. A relationship.
Afterwards, onward to find nourishment. To a Georgian food restaurant. Vladimir’s family is originally from Georgia – the country, not the state in the US – and he assures us this will be the best food we could ever eat. “It’s just up here and around the corner,” he says.
The Georgian restaurant had just closed, but Vladimir speaks to them and it turns out they will accommodate us if we can order just a few things from the menu. So, Vladimir chooses some items The owner shakes his head no. More choosing. More nos. Owner picks. Food on its way. I was happy that Kendra could advocate for my food needs. Chicken skewers as well. Done and done.
Must say it was the best chicken skewers and grilled veggies of my life. Or perhaps I really was that hungry. All of the spices were so delicate and made the flavor of whatever I was eating come out, rather than the spices being the only thing I was tasting.
At the end of the day, I had walked 8.6 miles, half of which were done in my booties. Yes, Dylan, booties still count as a heels!
As I flipped through my photos of the day to choose a couple to text home – walking along canals, lilac trees in bloom and brilliant sculptures – I wondered about what our show tomorrow might hold for us.
Would we receive an ovation in any small part like the one we’d seen tonight?
Would we receive flowers or will they boo us out of the country because we’ve ruined Chekhov’s crowning achievement and disgraced ourselves in the process?