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John Freedman
(The St. Petersburg Times, April 17, 2009)
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Dodin's 'Love's Labours Lost' Up For Golden Mask

The Golden Mask Festival would not be the Golden Mask without St. Petersburg's Lev Dodin and his Maly Drama Theater. This playhouse is a perennial nominee for awards, and this year is no exception. Dodin is one of 14 individuals vying for the nod as Best Director at the ceremony that takes place Saturday at the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Musical Theater in Moscow, while his staging of Shakespeare's "Love's Labours Lost" is up for Best Large-Scale Production.

"Love's Labours Lost" is considered one of Shakespeare's earliest as well as one of his least consequential plays. One suspects that this is exactly what attracted Dodin. His production is light, airy and relatively swift. It engages just 13 of the 18 characters in Shakespeare's original and runs under two and half hours as a single act with no intermission.

It rests almost entirely on the company's younger actors who have recently come or are in the process of coming to prominence. Only Igor Ivanov, as the profoundly love-struck Spaniard Don Adriano, and Alexander Zavyalov, who plays Boyet, the slightly bawdy attendant to a bevy of giggling French aristocratic girls, come from the stable of actors who helped Dodin establish his international reputation over the last three decades.

Dodin stripped the play down to its essentials: A group of young people with grand ideas in their heads immediately get caught up in the currents of life.

Ferdinand, the king of Navarre (Vladimir Seleznyov), encourages his friends Biron (Alexei Morozov) and Longaville (George Tsnobiladze) to abandon their pursuit of the opposite sex for three years in order to devote themselves to refining their sensibilities and increasing their knowledge. At the moment they make their youthful pact, a suite of feminine emissaries arrives from the King of France and makes mincemeat of their plans.

That, essentially, is the story. The rest is the telling of it.

Dodin's king and lords of Navarre are athletic, handsome and damned sure of themselves. They speak while doing handstands and cartwheels or climbing thick tree trunks rendered by designer Alexander Borovsky in the form of huge, hollow metal pipes with irregular holes cut into them. The women, also, are fleet afoot and speak with the speed and forcefulness of youngsters who know that life is big and must be taken by storm.

The village clown Costard (Oleg Ryazantsev) is a comically awkward, happy-go-lucky type who has no interest in getting caught up in his lords' plans for celibacy, and he unwittingly plays a role in making sure that they don't observe it for long themselves.

Borovsky dressed everyone in variations of white summer clothes, although the men often strip down to their bare torsos or legs. The Princess of France (Darya Rumyantseva) and her friends Rosaline (Yelizaveta Boyarskaya) and Maria (Yelizaveta Solomonova) are dressed in long white smocks but occasionally do a bit of nude sunbathing in the park outside of Ferdinand's palace.

Everything here is fun and games, from the acrobatics to the masquerade that the not-so-reluctant lovers engage in to fool each other about their identities. This is a picture of hormones running loose, of instinct obliterating serious intent, of life unfolding as it sees fit regardless of what anybody thinks or desires.

It is an unusual show for Dodin, whose productions of "Life and Fate," "Brothers and Sisters," "King Lear" and many others are huge, sweeping and often even crushing theatrical works that tackle the great conundrums of the human experience and wrestle them to the ground.

In "Love's Labour's Lost" Dodin left life's great cares behind. It is a work every director and every theater needs to try on for size from time to time. A chance to take a long, deep breath and then exhale without thinking about what that means.

Dodin, of course, is Dodin, and Shakespeare was no slouch. So there is that moment - the delivery of the news that the King of France has died - that abruptly turns everything on end. The games are suddenly over. Everyone is older. Everything has changed.

But that concerns what happens after the curtain closes.

Dodin's production of "Love's Labours Lost" is a bit of a romp in the woods. It makes few demands and answers few questions. For some it may deliver less than Dodin is capable of delivering. I think, however, that he was most interested in just having some fun. That's not such a bad evening's work.

"Love's Labours Lost" (Besplodniye Usiliya Lyubvi) plays May 16 at the Maly Drama Theater, 18 Ulitsa Rubinshteina. M: Dostoevskaya or Vladimirskaya. Tel. 713 2078. Running time: 2 hours, 25 minutes.


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