The Secrets ofaDirector Unfold in'Counselor'

John Freedman, The Moscow Times, 3.12.2009

Sergei Tuptalov / Hermitage Theater.
Mikhail Filippov, center, is a revelation as the disenchanted Nikolai Stepanovich in the Hermitage Theater's show.


Every production byagood director issomething ofaconfession. Even so, onrare occasion ashow comes along that isadirector's particularly intimate, yet very public, statement about matters ofprofound personal concern.

In recent years, Ihave seen this phenomenon inMark Zakharov's “The Executioner's Lament“ atthe Lenkom Theater and Kama Ginkas' “Rothschild's Fiddle“ atthe Theater Yunogo Zritelya. Tothem Iwould now add Mikhail Levitin's production of“The Secret Notes ofaSecret Counselor“ atthe Hermitage Theater.

“Secret Notes” isadramatization ofAnton Chekhov's novella, „ABoring Story.” Levitin, however, isaneccentric artist who loves toplay with chaos. Itisnosurprise, therefore, that hesews phrases from the play, „The Seagull,” and achunk from the short story, „Enemies,” into the fabric ofhis show.

The tale that hetells isofarenowned and aging medical professor. Itisbad enough that the doctor feels death looming, but every bit asaggravating isthat heiswracked byaloss ofinterest inalmost everything todowith the human experience. Students, colleagues, loved ones— all disappoint him with their petty requests and their lack ofwits.

The professor isnoeasier onhimself. Heknows his balding head, his mouth full offalse teeth and the nervous tick that attacks him inmoments ofstress are signs that heisbarely ashadow ofwhat heonce was. All that remains ishis belief inscience— “Science islove,“ hedeclares atone point.

Theater, however, asalways inaLevitin production, isalso amajor topic ofdigressive discourse. Itissomething that the professor doesn't love orunderstand, although hecannot escape it, either.

To play the role ofProfessor Nikolai Stepanovich, Levitin invited Mikhail Filippov totake abreak from his schedule atthe Mayakovsky Theater and join the company ofthis show. Filippov isarevelation asthe dignified, intelligent but tortured man.

There isamoment atthe show's end that flashes light oneverything that has preceded it, including the nature ofFilippov's performance.

Alone inahotel room, far from all that means anything tohim, Nikolai Stepanovich admits that never before was he“able tomake peace with the slowness oftime” asheisnow. „The last few months, asIhave waited for death, seem tohave lasted longer than myentire life,” hedeclares.

The slowness oftime, the interminable waiting, and the sense ofquiet and stillness that accompany them, are what inform Filippov's interpretation ofthe doctor. Aside from some brief emotional explosions, the actor keeps his character under control atall times, speaking inahushed voice, moving about the stage with excruciatingly slow deliberation, and revealing his innermost thoughts through his eyes and facial expressions.

Designer Harry Hummel reflected the doctor?s world inasimple set dominated byasemicircular backdrop ofLeonardo DaVinci's landscapes, medical and artistic drawings.

The aging doctor issurrounded bymany who want much from him— orsoheconcludes— although some have his best interests atheart.

His porter Nikolai (Yury Amigo) isone ofthose whose lives are centered onserving someone greater. Hecarries the famous man's umbrella, brings him water during lectures and occasionally speaks Latin asproof that heisdeserving ofhis master.

But itisKatya, the young daughter ofNikolai Stepanovich's late friend, who istruly the doctor's last link tolife. She has been his ward for years and their friendship issodeep that both surely suspect that they may beinlove.

As performed byOlga Levitina, Katya isboth tender and demanding with her benefactor. Her interest intheater and art ismet with his indifference tothe topic, although that only brings them closer, tothe jealousy ofhis wife Varya (Darya Belousova) and daughter Liza (Lyudmila Kolesnikova).

Levitin repeatedly inserts ruminations onthe nature oftheater— its clumsiness, its failures and its lofty aspirations— into this work about life slowly giving way todeath.

Are there too many ofthese digressions? Probably. Dothey often undercut the main story? Yes. Would itbeaLevitin production without them? No.

“The Secret Notes ofaSecret Counselor“ isattimes exquisite and attimes maddening. But bythe time that itisover, you feel asthough you have been privy toasecret confession. And there issolemnity and magic inthat.

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The Secrets ofaDirector Unfold in'Counselor', John Freedman, The Moscow Times, 3.12.2009
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