DESPITE KARL MARX'S predictions, the influences of family, private property and the state are still strongly felt in present-day Russia. At least that's how Russian playwright Victor Rozov sees it in his curiously titled comedy "The Nest of the Wood Grouse."
Currently playing to audiences in Moscow and Washington's Eisenhower Theater, Rozov's appealing play hides a mild satire within a rambunctious domestic farce with more slamming doors than have been seen around here since "Noises Off."
"Things run so smoothly at work," grouses Stepan Alekseyevich Sudakov, a highly placed official in Moscow's foreign ministry. As cantankerously played by Eli Wallach, the gruff but goodhearted Sudakov is adept at ironing out international problems but can't smooth out domestic wrinkles -- those messy human bonds and feelings get in the way. The play takes its name from the male wood grouse, a bird that is temporarily deaf during its mating season. Like that comic bird, poor Sudakov is adept at ignoring the turmoil in his own plush nest till the feathers start flying.
Sudakov spends most of his time trooping foreign visitors through his elegant home, and is not above involving the whole family in a little deception to provide a good impression of a "typical Russian home." His fractious brood includes a smart-alecky, Neil Simonized teenage son Prov, whose rebelliousness Sudakov sees as symptomatic of growing up with a "soft life." Daughter Iskra, a newspaper editor who prays in secret, is trapped in a dead-end marriage to slick, Machiavellian Georgy Yasyunin, who, for his part, has been using the family as a social stepping stone -- and is already extramaritally engineering his next step up the ladder. And Sudakov's wife, the placid, unflappable Natalya, efficiently played by Anne Jackson as a transplanted Harriet Nelson, is a pacifist with a hot-meal plan.
In Rozov's view, the price of success in the system -- any system -- is corruption of spirit. Concern is replaced by self- promotion; human niceties and personal loyalties are neglected. Acquaintances heap their problems on the accommodating Sudakov, who can adroitly maneuver the network of bureaucratic favors. But Sudakov forgets his promises more often than not, blind to the consequences to others. It's certainly not a new message, but Rozov gets a good deal of emotional mileage out of such day-to-day trials as job advancements and making a relationship work.
Rozov has written generous supporting roles, and they are tackled with zest by Rebecca Schull as Valentina Dmitriyevna, an old school chum of Sudakov's, who veers between tears and flirtation; and Rosemary De Angelis as a coarse but vital neighbor. Director Joe Papp puts a polish on the whole domestic dither with his usual Broadway dash. It would be interesting to see how this play is produced in its hometown.
THE NEST OF THE WOOD GROUSE -- At the Eisenhower Theater through Dec. 1.