Noted Russian Director Arrives at LaMama

You've Never Seen This Eugene Onegin!

By: - Oct 11, 2023

Dmitry Anatolyevich Krymov (born 1954, Moscow, Russia) is a Russian artist, scenographer, teacher and theater director, five times Laureate of the Golden Mask award. He left Russia for USA the day after invasion into Ukraine started. Seven of his plays were quickly banned in his country. In 2022 he started Krymov Lab NYC, his new theatrical endeavor.

"Eugene Onegin in his Own Words" was created by Dmitry Krymov and presented at LaMama in New York.

An usher told me this was a performance for children. She asked if I came with a child. If I did not, she suggested I choose anyone.

Puppets were piled on the table, no two are alike. I chose the charming  Mirabel. 

The theater is full of adults with dolls on their laps, and the comedy begins.

It is very funny from the start and touching too. 

We are to be lectured about Russian culture - like kids taught by the older kids (those kidding actors are on stage). They know all about culture, but they're a bit sick of it. They prefer fooling around, but their faces are long at all times - Russian style.

Culture is of course a very important matter. So important!

There are four main actors, and they speak with strong Brighton Beach accents. I only realized near the end that they were Americans impersonating Russians.  

For more than an hour and a half they are busy fooling... pardon me, retelling "the greatest" and "the most important" story in Russian culture, "Eugene Onegin",  with its many ramifications, connotations, allusions. And interruptions.

It's all very serious. It's all very funny. Yet when it comes to "Russian spleen" (and how it differs from the English type) they are dead serious. As well as "Russian winter" - for there is no other such winter in the whole world! 

The special poet Lensky is killed by the not-so-special non-poet Onegin. And then - pop! - the most very special, the curly-haired poet Pushkin is shot dead by some senseless handsome man in a trench coat.

After each such "number" the audience bursts into applause.

At the end of the show everyone brings their puppets on stage and piles them on the just-murdered Pushkin and takes a candy from his uplifted palms.

Yes, the show is very playful and extremely funny.

Yet there is a moment in the play tha brought tears of compassion and sadness to my eyes.  It happens not far from the beginning when the "elder" of the troupe (the future "Pushkin") announces that today's topic is the "great Russian culture." Suddenly, a "spectator" jumps on the stage, bursting with indignation:

 “The Russian culture!? Speaking of it NOW, when Ukrainian children are dying! This "great culture" of yours... This Pushkin-Tolstoy-Dostoyevsky... There's nothing in it but oppression and violence!!!”

He holds a jar of pickled tomatoes, which he starts throwing at the actor. And runs away. The actor slips on a tomato and falls down, the traces of tomatoes on his clothes look like blood. He doesn't say a word. He totally accepts the blame. There is a sepulchral silence in the air.  With a strong gesture, he stops the "cleaning lady", and carefully wipes the floor and his clothes. 

After that he stands up, and leads the troupe to continue. But the air of sadness never leaves his face.

This is the only grave episode in this otherwise rambunctious, extremely funny performance.

It keeps haunting me days after the show, along with its closing line: "Don't forget to look back!"

In the theater, the puppets in our laps forced us to look back at our childhood as the actors on stage look back at our history and culture.