Russian drama is one of the world’s most respected. Greats like Ostrovskii and Chekhov changed the way that theatre itself was defined, and revolutionized the dramatic storyline and its relation to the audience. But before Russian theatre came into its own, there were the days of Moliere re-imaginings and Russian adaption of the French comedic style. It is at the crossroads of these two traditions that we meet the contemporary Vladivostok production Гарнир по-французски at the Primorsky Regional Puppet Theater.
Unlike many of its older counterparts, Гарнир is not a lifeless rip-off lacking any native pizazz. Though the storyline of the play ostensibly revolves around happenings in and around a French city, it is very clear that the spiritual core of the play – the jokes, the interaction between characters, even the costuming – is all Russian. Thus, though Гарнир is based on a French comedy, in which a married couple’s unexpected canceling of weekend plans leads to chaos and instability due to the secrets kept by both parties, it manages to keep a Russian face by giving the details of the story the true flavoring of the motherland.
I myself immensely enjoyed the play. I thought it very well done, from the quick and witty repartee to the deftly performed physical comedy that was nicely sprinkled throughout. The actors were pretty much spot-on, and if they sometimes overacted a bit, it was well compensated for by their skillful and almost unnoticeable penetration of the fourth wall at crucial comedic moments. I will say that at times the play seemed to drag a bit, but this could have been due to the disproportionately long run time of the first act in comparison with the second. It is also clear that Russian theatres, in Vladivostok at least, have not yet stumbled upon the idea of gradated seating; I stand only 5’2” and had to lean to the side for nearly the whole performance in order to avoid watching only the head of the taller woman seated in front of me. Again, though, this was redeemed by the fact that the theater in which the play was staged, Театр Кукол (Teatr Kukol; Puppet Theatre), was clearly a beautiful and architecturally very interesting relic of the older, golden days of theater. All in all, it is a performance that I would have no hesitation recommending to others; long live the culture of Franco-Russian collaboration!
Primorsky Regional Puppet Theater
Garnir po-frantsuzki/Гарнир по-французки
Ул. Петра Великого, д. 8 (Театр Кукол)
Select dates in February with a possible extended March run
Tickets: 200 rubles