K.I. From "Crime"
nytheatre.com review by Matthew Trumbull
January 6, 2005
To its credit, the press release above for K.I. From “Crime” attempts to prepare audiences for an atypical night at the theatre—two languages, two rooms, no stage, all above the loading dock of a vacant midtown building. However I can report that this barely scratches the surface of the most audacious, bewildering performance I have seen in my life. This show is not a relaxing audience experience, but I recommend it to those with a taste for adventure and oddity in their theatre diet—oh, and maybe that rare New York theatergoer who is tired of plays in English.
Yes, the press blurb specifically advertises English in this play, but be forewarned: if Russian is not one of your more fluent tongues, you will not understand at least 80% of what Oksana Mysina says in what is essentially an hour-and-a-half monologue—no intermission. She only occasionally utters an English sentence, mostly to quickly summarize what she elaborately describes in Russian for long stretches of time.
Mysina plays Katerina Ivanova, a penniless mother of two who has just lost her second husband, and is grappling with the relentless aftershocks of that tragedy, including eviction by her landlady and humiliation by old friends of her late husband who won’t come to her aid. Also a setback is her tuberculosis-afflicted brain, which is ever more frequently malfunctioning. Mysina is a much-celebrated stage and screen actress in her native land—she is the recipient of the Nika Award, Russia’s equivalent to the Oscar. Her brilliance is wholly evident in this performance, even with the vast quantity of words that were unintelligible to me. To have a glimpse at how this is possible, watch an excellent screen performance with the sound off. You will see that artful acting expresses itself powerfully in a myriad of ways beyond the spoken word. Watch for eyes that are present, expressive, and vivacious; body movements that profoundly speak to status, age, emotion, and honesty. Mysina is a master of these elements, and much of Katerina’s plight can be gleaned from them alone.
She connects with the audience in a bold, fearless manner from the moment of her entrance. Casting audience members as guests for this madwoman’s memorial dinner in honor of her husband, she pleads and jokes with us one moment, and berates us the next, often for our inability to follow her simple Russian instructions. She, at times, sits in the audience and talks to the individual next to her as if they had been old friends for years. She ad-libs (in English) at latecomers taking their seats, and at audience members who are wearing particularly puzzled facial expressions. A glorious comedic moment came when she confronted one such man, saying “What is wrong with you? You think this is a theatre?” He stammered out a reply in the affirmative, and got a scoffing chuckle from Mysina and a roll of the eyes that surprised the uneasy audience into loud laughter.
Her performance backs away from no moment of the wrenching hopelessness that one might expect from anything inspired by Dostoyevsky. Katerina is caught in the catch-22 predicament of hiding her desperation from the aristocracy that is quickly forgetting her, the stress of which causes her only more desperation. Mysina gives this character tremendous restraint at the beginning of her monologue, allowing only her eyes to hint at pain hidden away. But slowly and with gathering speed, she bravely journeys to fierce emotional territory, taking out her bitterness on the audience, God, and her three taciturn children, played by Elizabeth Boiko, Bridget Clark, and Eugene Vovk. They rarely open their mouths except to sing upon a shrill command and rough shove from their mother.
Director Kama Ginkas, another titan of the Russian theatre, has created a passionate environmental staging of this play by removing the barrier of a traditional stage, and having the audience travel from one room to another in the midst of the show—the first representing the immediate outside of Katerina’s home, the second being the interior where the dinner takes place. An additional and superb theatrical element of Ginkas’s staging is the ladder that drops from the ceiling of the second room, representing Katerina’s death journey away from her troubled life. It has a pendulum-like swinging motion that Mysina joyfully employs to lend all the more ecstasy to Katerina’s final speech.
Ginkas and Mysina would do well to translate more of the Russian, if the show is to remain at an hour-and-a-half. I simply lost patience with not being able to understand what she so passionately tried to express, and was not placated by the dry, lengthy plot summary inserted into the program. However, a memorable performance it remains, crackling with as much (if not more) live presence and exciting energy as any 100%English show I have seen in recent days.