Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Soviets Bring Searing Drama to US on First Visit, Moscow Troupe Offers Tale of a Woman's Arrest and Imprisonment under Stalin

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Soviets Bring Searing Drama to US on First Visit, Moscow Troupe Offers Tale of a Woman's Arrest and Imprisonment under Stalin

Article excerpt

EUGENIA GINZBURG made the mistake of not turning in a fellow professor who had written a book that Stalin condemned. For that offense and others concocted by the State, she ultimately spent 18 years in the Soviet gulag.

"Into the Whirlwind: A Chronicle of the Time of the Cult of Personality" is a chilling play about her arrest and imprisonment in Siberia. For the first time, a troupe of upstart actors from the Soviet Union has brought this work to the United States, now playing at the Bagley Wright Theatre here, as part of the Goodwill Arts Festival.

The Sovremennik ("contemporary") Theater of Moscow's production of "Into the Whirlwind" and its rendition of Chekhov's "Three Sisters" are truly stunning theater. The huge cast - 55 women and 5 men in "Whirlwind" - has an emotional range and flexibility rarely seen in American theater, from bellows of despair to the lightest touch on a cheek.

Many American actors have studied the famous Stanislavsky method of acting. But few have learned the technique directly from "Stanislavski's grandchildren," as artistic director Galina Volchek and the other founders of the theater are called. The result is remarkable to watch.

Adding to the impact is the fact that the actors speak in their native Russian (as the audience listens to a simultaneous English translation through headsets.)

Ginzburg originally wrote her story in the form of a long letter to her grandson in 1967. A copy was passed clandestinely around the Soviet Union and became an underground bestseller. It was published abroad, first in Italy, then in other countries, including the US. The Sovremennik dramaturg acquired a second copy and hired playwright Alexander Getman to adapt it to the stage.

Sovremennik opened its production in Moscow in February 1989. Seven months later the book was finally published in the Soviet Union, but Ginzburg did not live to see it. She had died in 1977.

Elizabeth Huddle, artistic director of Seattle's Intiman Theatre Company, met Ms. Volchek of the Sovremennik, years ago in Moscow, and suggested that the company be invited to the Goodwill Arts Festival. …

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