The spokesman for the Film Actors Studio Theatre of Georgia, U. S.S.R., was misidentified in a review in yesterday's Style section. He is Revas Chkchedze, general manager for the theater. (Published 11/14/ 90)
"Don Juan," a reworking of Moliere's classic by the Georgian Film Actors' Studio Theatre, is a robust, inventive production by superbly skilled performers. It is also entirely in Georgian, a language that is closer to Celtic than it is to either Russian or English, and so the experience of seeing either this play or the second in the troupe's traveling repertoire, "Bakula's Pig," is likely to be more cultural than intellectual.
This Georgia is one of the republics making up the Soviet Union, although -- as the director of the company made clear Sunday night at the Shakespeare Theatre at the Folger -- it hopes for independence soon. "It is still night. A bit of light appears but it is not morning yet," said Mikhail Tumanishvili, quoting God's answer to the prophet Isaiah when asked what time it was. "All of us are waiting for morning to come." This visit, he suggested, gives them hope the dawn will not be too far off.
The company was formed by Tumanishvili 12 years ago out of one graduating class from the Rustaveli Georgian State Theatrical Institute, where he taught. It works in a system unimaginable to American actors, alternating between experimental theater work and serious films, all directed, designed and acted by members of the company, and completely subsidized by the state.
"Don Juan" has been in its repertoire for 10 years, and that familiarity, coupled with the actors' rigorous physical training and Stanislavski-rooted philosophy, produces a fluid, self-assured style that should be of great interest to American theater artists. Now on its first North American visit, the company aims "to argue, engage in polemics and seek new forms reflecting our present-day reality."
That reality is in some turmoil. In April 1989, 20 Georgian nationalists were killed by Soviet troops during a demonstration in the capital, Tbilisi, following a week of round-the-clock protests. Two weeks ago a slate of seven non-communist dissidents, campaigning on a platform of independence, was elected to the Georgian legislature, in a further indication of the country's sentiments. One of this theater company's members, Paata Baratashvili, who plays Don Juan's distinguished-looking father, was also elected to the legislature, as a member of the Traditionalists Party.
Not being a Georgian speaker, I can't tell you whether this production of "Don Juan" has a political interpretation, although the troupe does see the central character as "a medieval variety of an angry young man." But I can tell you that it uses boogie-woogie, jazz, cocktail piano and opera to complement the action, that the costumes mix centuries and styles in happy profusion and that the set is cluttered with framed, dark pictures of all sizes, like the storage room of a museum. A summary of the scenes in the program indicates that it would be pointless to try to follow Moliere's text to get exactly what is going on at any given moment.
One character, the Prompter, has been moved from the back- or under-stage perch where such figures usually reside and placed onstage, to prompt, nag and give the English-speaking audience a hint of the plot. As played by Rusudan Bolkvadze, she is an inspired creation, licking her finger as she turns the tattered pages of her script, orchestrating the onstage action with a pencil and broadly colluding with the audience. Dressed in a shabby, shapeless jacket, with a beret squashed unflatteringly on her head, Bolkvadze links the audience to the stage and also, by suggesting that her interest in Don Juan is not merely professional, connects the characters to a life offstage.
The company fosters a sense of conscious theatricality; the actors know that we know that this is a play, and that they are speaking a language we don't understand. They conceived the production as a rehearsal, an "undressed spectacle," both "a discussion and a theater game." Only actors with complete mastery of their art can get to all these levels at once.
One of these performers is the devastating antihero of the piece, the man who gave philandering a bad name, Don Juan, played by Zurab Kipshidze. He must be the John Barrymore of Tbilisi -- tall, dark and to-die-for handsome. His every gesture is poetry, his voice a symphony, his glances summon the rumbling of thunderclouds. You can take your Kevin Costners and your Mel Gibsons -- this guy leaves them in the dust.
The troupe is visiting through tomorrow night. There are matinee and evening performances of "Don Juan" today, a matinee of "Bakula's Pig" tomorrow afternoon and a final performance of "Don Juan" tomorrow night.