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It was bound to happen sooner or later. At some point I was going to have reason to write about the same place a second time. I’m sure I will even come back to some places a third time – maybe even this one. This is a return to Kama Ginkas’s White Room at the Moscow Young Spectator Theater, located at 8 Mamonovsky Lane. I wrote about it once already, you can read that entry here. That was just nine months ago and I had no idea – maybe no one did – that the sad story I told then was about to come to an end. In brief, it is this: Kama Ginkas staged a historical production called We Play Crime, based on Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment in this small building in 1991. The idea at the time was that Ginkas would use this little affiliate attached in spirit, but not in fact, to the Young Spectator Theater for many of his future works. But evil stepped in. An unscrupulous manager at the theater somehow irreversibly leased the little building away for 24 years to some business concern. Ginkas’s brilliant use of the space in that 1991 show could not be repeated or built upon, at least not in the same space. He lost access to this place that suited his art and vision so well. Now, however, this little building has been returned to the ownership of the theater and Ginkas wasted no time putting it to use. But not only is he putting it to theatrical use, he has had the whole place renovated in the style of the time it was built – some 200 years ago. But those are not the only changes. The first photo in the final block of photos below shows the space’s new entrance. In 1991 we walked into the space directly from the street (see the door at left in the two photos above). Now we walk around the building from the other side (see photo immediately below), and enter through a courtyard and patio. Once inside we are greeted by several gorgeous, brightly painted rooms that imitate what rooms might have looked like in the old days. There is a blue library with an old velvet sofa, a reddish sitting room with a fireplace, a video room where you can sit and watch video clips of the theater’s shows, a long, green corridor that leads from the entrance directly to the white performance space. (You can see the library and sitting room in the last block of photos below. In fact, the final photo shows how the architects left cutaways in walls in each room, revealing materials still left over from the original construction 200 years ago.)
Ginkas tells the story of the renovated space well in a post that was made to Facebook. Here is a translation of the pertinent segment of his post:
“Hurrah! I congratulate myself, Moscow Young Spectator Theater and everyone who understands! Today, unofficially as yet, we performed our production on the new (old!) stage that we call ‘Games in the Affiliate.’ Friends! For those who understand these things. This structure is at least 200 years old. It may be one of the few buildings left in Moscow after the fire. Do you understand? After Napoleon! After almost all of Moscow burned. This tiny little building in the empire style. Nobody knows what was here. But it still retains the charm of the old Moscow buildings of the nobility. And so – we renovated it and gave it (as best we could) the feel of old Moscow comfort. In the awful modern plaster drywall, without which you cannot do these days, unfortunately, we cut small windows that allow you to see the real wooden walls which have been standing there for two centuries. There is a tiny cafe next to a fireplace where you can have coffee or an inexpensive open-faced sandwich. There is a little library where you can sit and, by the light of a lamp, look through books about theater, and not only… There is a tiny room where you can watch videos of our shows….”
I revisited this spectacular space last night for the first time since 1991. It was quite an experience, I must say. The occasion was Ginkas’s new production called On the Road to… Like We Play Crime, it is based on separate chapters from Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, but, unlike the former production which focused on the characters of the intellectual assassin Raskolnikov and and the wily detective Porfiry Petrovich, this one looks at Raskolnikov and the mysterious figure of Svidrigailov, who, as Ginkas puts it, is a jester, a killer and a philosopher. Ginkas quotes from the old show liberally, but repeats nothing. He plays with the same old devices of shadows, a window, a bucket, but uses them in entirely new circumstances. Did I have the feeling that I was traveling back in time? Almost. Almost, but not quite. Because, like any great theater artist, Kama Ginkas is of the present moment. Always. And On the Road to... is of the present moment. It tells the hard, harsh and very sad tale of two men who have lost their way, for whom murder has been a sign of their lives and character, although, surely, neither one ever planned on that. But this is not the place to write a review. I am here today to celebrate the return to the Moscow theater map of one of its great spaces, lost since 1991. Now back in service and at the beck and call of Kama Ginkas and Moscow theater-goers.
A comment on a few of the photos above. Note the beautiful, clearly-traced shadows of a single tree spreading across the facade of the building. You can see it best in the second photo at the top. This ghostly apparition seemed so perfect, so appropriate, that I took that second shot specifically so as to enhance the arboreal shadow. It, indeed, was a night of shadows and specters and ghosts coming to life in a way that enriched the lives we are living today. That’s theater, yes. That’s Kama Ginkas.