Modern take on Russian classic charms and offends in Moscow

Fri Feb 13, 2015 9:10am EST
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By Gabriela Baczynska and Lidia Kelly

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Interwoven with references to Vladimir Putin, a contemporary take on the 19th century Russian classic "Boris Godunov" charmed and offended a Moscow theater audience in equal measure with its tale of murderous usurper-turned-ruthless czar.

The play has divided public opinion in the same way as Russia's Oscar-nominated film "Leviathan". Both challenge people's perceptions of life in Russia, leaving some commending them for honesty and others arguing they demean Russia just as it needs to be defended from a critical West.

Boris Godunov, written by Russian poet Alexander Pushkin, is loosely based on historical events in 16th century Russia. Director Konstantin Bogomolov, 39, has brought the tale into the modern world, spicing it up with multimedia tricks and Skype conversations.

Early in the play, as people learn that Godunov has killed the legitimate heir, a screen shows a caption repeated 10 times, sending a nervous giggle through an increasingly uncomfortable audience: "The people gathered on the central square. The people are waiting to be told what next. The people are stupid scum."

When Godunov then places the crown on his own head, the screen shows 2012 video footage of Putin's convoy driving through Moscow's empty streets to the Kremlin for his third presidential inauguration.

But Bogomolov said the play was not primarily intended as a satire of Putin. Rather, it is rather a look at how modern Russia sees and talks about itself.

"It's a bit of mockery of the political situation in general, of course. But mostly it's about the aesthetics of society, how we speak of what's going on," he told Reuters.

"By having a go at the aesthetics of the society, rather than political questions, you hit the people harder."   Continued...