I/We Are Pinocchio
Nina Agisheva | Snob | 4 December 2019Original

The  Electrotheatre's production of Pinocchio, premiered within the framework of the New European Theatre Festival, runs on two consecutive nights and lasts a total of eight hours. Do not, however, be frightened by that, for this is the most beautiful production on Moscow's stages today, and the time flies by instantly. Its creators, playwright Andrei Vishnevsky and director Boris Yukhananov, studied together and conceived this tale back in the 1970s. Over the years, the parable of the wooden boy took long leaps in their minds: from the famous illustrations by Italian artist Libico Maraja to a grand-scale theatrical mural, a mystery play that absorbs all eras and styles. The commedia dell'arte, however, dominates: in the middle of the curtain showing fragments of an antique portico we see a bas-relief - it’s either Harlequin with his traditional round collar, Pinocchio himself with his long nose, or a skull. Metamorphoses, transformations, and extremely complex theatrical attractions accompany both performances: Pinocchio. Forest and Pinocchio. Theatre.

In the first, the hero is born from a tree and becomes acquainted with life; in the second he escapes life into the world of the theatre, which strikes him as more real and interesting. His wanderings are accompanied by a chorus sitting in side boxes, consisting of Heinrich von Kleist, Goethe, Edgar Allan Poe and Mary Shelley (all of them, it seems, loved puppets). Above them all are an organist and a heavenly choir that sound truly divine. Pinocchio is actually two individuals, the actresses Maria Belyaeva and Svetlana Naidyonova, inimitable in their plasticity and manner of speech; in fact, there are two each of everyone: the surgeon Geppetto and his assistant Cherry, Harlequin, Pierrot and the director Mangiafuoco. These are either doubles for Artaud, or two different entities of the same organism.

The fairy-tale reality looks menacingly modern: Cricket convinces Pinocchio that he will disappear if he doesn’t go to an insect school, for insects rule the world and locusts can destroy a city with all its achievements in a day. But Pinocchio kills Cricket with a hammer. Then he encounters one of the overlords of the agile Harlequin - the Sun King (actor Vladimir Korenev stylizes him as Brezhnev) and witnesses the execution of a separatist, whose head will be chopped off. This touching little man is very much contemporary: he might ask Nijinsky if he loves Pina Bausch, might discuss Hitler, and ask for buttermilk for lunch. He is completely under theatre's spell.

Theatre here is an artificial model of paradise, where fallen angels regain what they have lost. Journeys through it are delightful and cannot be boring. For example, junkie-pagliacci, that is, former actors, live in the lobby: one passionately reads Medea’s monologue; another starts singing “Chattanooga-Choo-Choo,” referencing the cult play A Young Man's Grown-up Daughter, once famously performed inside these walls; while a third may slip from classic texts to a prisoner's song. The entire company indeed performs in this show, and everyone does so with obvious pleasure. The magnificent work of the video artist, the lighting and costume designers has no comparison not only in Russian, but, I believe, in world theater. Moreover, the Chinese and Italian masks seemed to have grown right into the performers' faces: Alessio Nardin was the director-teacher for working with masks.

By the end of the performance, you fully identify with the Pinocchio duo, who seek meaning and beauty where they cannot be found, and so finally discover their illusory happiness in a ghostly, invented world. Or maybe it's the only real one, who knows? You don’t even want to think what coloring principles, sounds and laser devices bring about the effect of your presence next to Salome, Don Juan or Orpheus (almost the entire history of the world theatre is presented in this meta-opera by the Electrotheatre). This magical visual theatre allows the viewer to melt completely into this dream, precisely according to Calderon’s formula Life is a Dream. In a sense, entering this reality is similar to escaping into virtual reality – anything to escape our reality that constantly brings us new threats.