Click on photos to enlarge.
This historic little free-standing building should have been even more historic than it is. As fate would have it, just one of Kama Ginkas’s productions was performed here – We Play “Crime,” based on Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment (1991). It was received as one of the best, most provocative productions of that season, and it marked only the second show Ginkas had staged in Moscow after a couple of years when he worked exclusively in Finland. It was here that Ginkas and wife Henrietta Yanovskaya, the relatively new artistic director of the Moscow Young Spectator Theater, came up with the phrase “Games in a White Room.” Of course, the word for “games” in Russian (igry) also means “playing”, so the idea was something like”playing theatrical games in a white room” or “playing around at theater in a white room.” That’s really what the phrase implies in Russian. If I were a translator, I might even end up translating it that way.
The idea at the time was to turn this small space – a mid-sized white room located in this small building – over to Ginkas where he would work his theatrical magic, playing various theatrical games in the structure’s white room. It was not to be, however. In one of those shady deals that were so common in the early 1990s in Moscow, the then-managing director either sold or long-term-leased this budding theatrical space to a bank. By the time Ginkas and Yanovskaya found out about it, there was nothing they could do. I don’t know the details but I do know that that managing director didn’t last much longer at the theater.
Still, as a quirk of the lease/sale deal, to this day you enter the stage door of the Moscow Young Spectator Theater through a short corridor in this building. The opening you see to the right in the picture below was once the entrance to the White Room. It is now blocked by a stairwell. Nevertheless, every time I go through the stage door entrance of this theater – and I do that relatively often – I look to that blocked aperture to my right and recall the first time I ever met Yanovskaya. She was receiving invited guests to a performance of We Play “Crime.” Ginkas, I believe, was in St. Petersburg at the time. Yanovskaya seated Oksana and me front row center – not because she knew anything about us, but because Lars Kleberg, the well-known Slavicist and, at that time, the cultural attache at the Swedish embassy, had arranged tickets for us. Yanovskaya’s courtesy was paid to him, not to us, whom she didn’t know from Adam or Eve. From our front-row, center, seats, Oksana and I sat enthralled as we watched one of the best pieces of theater I have ever seen. Just like Ginkas himself, it was harsh, demanding and very funny.
As I say, however, that was it for this building and Kama’s white room theatrical games. When he lost access to this space, the “white room” was moved to a small chamber in the corner of the top floor of the theater’s main building. The photos immediately above and below (one taken with a flash that catches falling snow and swirling fog; the other taken naturally to capture natural light) show the windows of the two white rooms as if they are close neighbors. The window in the old space was illuminated by a spot from outside and the actor Viktor Gvozditsky, playing the persnickety criminal investigator Porfiry Petrovich, actually made one entrance through this window. Sitting on the windowsill, he performed an entire scene on the verge of falling back out again. The next “white room” show Ginkas created was called K.I. from “Crime” (1994) and it was also based on Crime and Punishment – this time specifically on the character of Katerina Ivanovna, Semyon Marmeladov’s widow. (By a rather wild twist of fate, my wife Oksana Mysina was cast in the role of Katerina Ivanovna, a role she continues to play 20+ years later. But that’s a whole other story.) Just as Ginkas used outside lighting in We Play “Crime,” he also did so in K.I. from “Crime.” In that show, two spots are set outside the two windows you see on the darker face of the white building in the photos. Ginkas’s third “white room” production was Pushkin. Duel. Death (1999), a typically unorthodox and provocative examination of our understanding – and misunderstanding – of Alexander Pushkin.
Over the years Ginkas has created numerous innovative small-stage productions using the second-floor foyer of the main building, the balcony overlooking the big hall, and by putting the audience on the mainstage together with the actors. I rather suspect that, had the original white room not been lost, at least some of these shows would have been performed there. But that’s life and that’s history. They are what they are. And since that is true, it is also true that the white room which gave rise to the phrase “Kama Ginkas playing theatrical games in a white room,” hosted only the one production, We Play “Crime.”
See my newer post which updates this story about Ginkas and his White Room.