The Symphonic Juncture

A [Symphonist]: "The one who is not afraid to raise the primal force."

- Boris Asafiev (1917)

Review: The Russian Arts Theater and Studio, "In Paris," and "The Waiter and the Slut." Dec, 2019

Because this was my first blush with Russian play-writers of any kind, I truly can say I have no inclination as to what to visually expect from the performers, but what I received was far from what I had thought or had hoped to see. It exceeded all expectation and brought to me, and my fellow audience members, the sense of one's loss of self, nationality, and home during the turbulent times of the Soviet dictatorship. The actors and actresses (names displayed below) harnessed the transfigured power of Bunin and Berberova's short stories into tangible commentaries on the fragility of love and how one, among life's vices and imperfections, can simultaneously supplement a loss of innocence, naivety, in a literal sense virginity, with one of enduring hope, a longevity of unshakable determination to write wrongs done to oneself by others and the affinity for a life outside of one's one.


"In Paris," made me tear up and not because of what was said but because of what was left unsaid, not shared with the audience, un-narrated. Luisa Menzen, having many notable credits under name such as Dunja Raskolnikovna from Crime and Punishment and Irina Prozorov from Three Sisters. Her portrayal of Olga Alexandrovna was heart-breakingly sincere, as her character, a charming maid at a non-descript Russian restaurant in Paris, France, falls in love with Nikolay Platonych, a hardened ex-general of the old imperial army of the Tsars, in a series of vignetted days colored by Roman Freud and Di Zhu and their many characters, adding into the mix obscurity, humor, and ardent passion shown in a short flashback scene of them dancing as a couple. This, among many moments expertly staged by Aleksey Burago, are the points that recount what could have been if not for the tragedy of time and fate. The dancing montage gave us a glimpse of more than a dance, the union of these two 'strangers', who by the grace of God encountered each other.


Luisa Menzen can only be though of, in this performance, as guileless. By the end, I almost couldn't decide if I knew her more, due to audacious acts of semi-nudity, passionate caressing, and sophisticated subtitles, or if I knew her less, as the woman who I asked to help set up chairs was certainly not the woman who I saw before me at the end of the performance. She bore everything, and evoked stark emotional acuity, well beyond her and her characters years. Her "lover" Nikolay Platonych, played by Tom Schubert, besides being Russian in appearance, conveyed a cool, ex-general, brought to Paris in search of something, as are all of our characters, a trait found even in emigre composers like Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky. Through the days of courting, cinema excursions, and their un-observable coitus, sadness lingers in the air. Love as these characters experienced can never last long and as we see at the end, it didn't. Nikolay suffers a heart attack and perished on the train home and one cannot help but feel as if this was inevitable, right from the beginning. I begin to tear up, knowing that these two fictional yet very real characters will never be together. The cast of 4 did very, very well and I know Bunin would be proud.


In contrast, yet not so far, we have "The Waiter and the Slut," the tale of a fallen daughter of a St. Petersburg major political figure and her desperate attempt at the attainment of her "Perisian happiness." This story is far more sad and much more depressing and seeing someone's fall from grace is simply heart-wrenching. It's a testament to Aleksey Burago (the director) and his ability to do the most with the least, as these stories require minimal outside influence and require so much internal dialogue at all times. The story, in a quick synopsis, deals with Tania Shabunina's jealousy over her sister's lover, her eventual situation of singlehood due to her 'husband', stolen from her sister, and her destitution in Paris. Even when her actions bring her to be homeless in Paris, she, Tania, finds a way to manage by becoming, in effect, a slut, thus we arrive at our title. Di Zhu's performance.....what can be said. purified anguish, unrelenting sorrow, but throughout it all a fervent attempt at continuing a hope of a life she once had, which seems almost reminiscent of the case of the Soviet Union. They truly thought it was going to be the solution, yet in the end their hope was the ultimate downfall.


Complimenting her sadness was Roman Freud's depiction of Lieutenant Bologovsky, a former Russian Lieutenant now waiter at a upscale restaurant. I am hypothesizing the same restaurant, possibly the same day but who knows. Roman's performance was one of unraveling madness, as the truth of his emotional situation starts to show itself towards the end of the play. His unsatisfied cravings for something greater, or at least, something different can be seen in the way he interacts with Tania. Upon first blush he cannot believe his eyes that it's really her, in HIS restaurant. But by the semi-end, he cannot stand her nakedness, her presence. Such a radical switch and unwinding of emotion would seem daunting to some, but not to Roman, who has played characters like Herman from, "Enemies, A Love Story" and Gurov from, ""Lady With a Lapdog." His character's need for change becomes excruciatingly apparent when his attachment to Tania becomes fatal, with the introduction of a gun. Many events happen, Tania soliloquizes about her true past and her thoughts of her murder and Bologovsky's murder, and the talking that occurs almost, again sensing a theme, seems inevitable. In the end, Tania dies, the Lieutenant is devastated and once again lonely, and that Wednesday night, the audience (including me) was left feeling dead too. Not in the physical sense, but in the way that only a person dragged from corner to corner by their emotional collar can feel.


Russian emigre art, media, music, plays, and etc, cast upon the viewer a sense of deep, emotional longing. A need for the restoration of the once great Russian nation they knew. The way they express this longing depends on the art form, but the longing is still there.

Olga longed for real love, Nikolay longed for love, Bologovsky longed for change, and Tania longed for change. What do you long for?


Actors/Actresses

Lusia Menzen: Olga Alexandrovna/ Various characters

Tom Schubert: Nikolay Platonych/ Various Characters

Di Zhu: Various characters/ Tania Shabunina

Roman Freud: Various characters/ Lieutenant Bologovsky


Pushkin Hall, The Russian Arts Theater and Studio

165 West 86th Street

Second Floor, Pushkin Hall

New York, NY 10024

(Entrance at W86th Street)



Di Zhu in "The Waiter and the Slut." 2019, Photo taken off the website, russiantheater.org

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