The following is melded together from a series of separate interviews with Rimas Tuminas and two of the featured actors of his Vakhtangov Theatre production "Eugene Onegin", Sergey Makovetskiy and Evgeniya Kregzde. The topics were wide-ranging, spanning from philosophical musings to favorite meals, and winding up with a thorough yet elusive investigation into the Russian soul.
SR: Sergei, You have performed in numerous stage productions and films - Which do you currently prefer, the stage or the screen?
SM: Theatricality is an inner sensation. You go on stage with a monologue - the audience begins to cry. As you finish your speech, you can’t help but think: “Why are you all weeping? Why do you have to be so serious? This is theatre, after all! Let me stick my tongue out”. And you do. And the audience shudders with surprise. In one second the tragic becomes the comic. But that’s why it’s so brilliant
In movies the energy expense is different. An actor is forced to work for twelve hours, to play many scenes, and they don’t often go in order. Today - from the 8th, 16th and 24th episode, all in one day. You don’t just learn your lines, you have to know what happened in the previous episode. You learn the text and forget it at the same time, otherwise you will run out of memory on your diskette. It’s not limitless. It’s very technical work, but it doesn’t cancel the flight of emotions, nerves and soul. When a film is edited, it’s impossible to change anything. It is a concentration of your profession, your skill.
SR: What can you say about the part of Onegin? What attracts you to it?
SM: It’s hard to find a stage equivalent to Pushkin’s images, but Rimas found an amazing poetic language for this production and I marvel at his directorial fantasy. We strive to embody his ideas without striking a false note. I’ll be brief - our show turned out to be genius (laughs). When I was offered the part in his “Uncle Vanya” and everything was clear - you have the dramaturgy, you have the character. But when you take Pushkin’s work, it’s not very clear what there is to play. Why are there are two actors that play this part? There are many images in this production, and for me one of the most interesting and mysterious is the other side of the mirror. It
shows us what has been and what will be, what there is and what isn’t. Fantasy is much deeper and richer than knowledge. That is why the appearance of two Onegins in one show - the younger and the older one who looks back - is not a coincidence. This interpretation broadens the ideas of passion and love.
SR: Evgeniya, how did you come to the Vakhtangov Theatre? Were you a theatrical child?
EK: I’m actually from a family of mathematicians and physicists. I was thinking of following in their footsteps, but suddenly developed an interest in theatre, and friendship is to blame! When I was fifteen a theater studio opened in our school, and my friend, who dreamed of being an actress, begged me to come with her so that she wouldn't feel lonely. Ironically, I was the one who became the actress! I got accepted into the Vakhtangov Theatre after graduating from the Boris Shchukhin Theatre Institute.
SR: What is it like to portray Tantyana, one of the most famous literary heroines?
EK: Exciting and highly responsible! It’s hard to create an image of a character that already exists in the head of every Russian. You are immediately frightened of rubbing someone the wrong way. So, the aim I set for myself was not to follow any sort of communal opinion, but to declare my own individual perception of Tatyana, based on a sincere dialogue with myself.
SR: Rimas, how did you decide to stage “Eugene Onegin"? What did you begin with? Did the concept of the production evolve during rehearsals or did you know what the results would be from the very beginning?
RT What can be better than Pushkin, Lermontov, Chekhov, Gogol? With the passing of the years, you get weary of telling tales of plays in three acts - you want to go back to literature, find theater in literature; connect the actors to the creation of the show, create together with our experience, knowledge, culture.
“Eugene Onegin” is an answer to the question of the tragedy of Russian fates. And my fate as well. When I read “Onegin” something within me answers. There is a certain tragedy in it, something chimerical. But you still have the dream, the hope, some sort of tenderness…This is what summoned me to Pushkin. I wasn't nervous when I was working on this piece. I knew that in Russia, Pushkin is everything, “our everything”. I love Russian classical literature very much - I grew up with classics, both Russian and Lithuanian, and they are very close to me.
SR:Your “Eugene Onegin” differs from the original. Do you feel that it’s the director’s job to interpret the source material or to solemnly preserve it?
RT: I am dovotee of the author’s original text; not adapted to a theme, not changed for a cause, no editing, no rewriting. This is our fundamental principle. We remain, and we must remain true to it. It means that you have to read the text very attentively. Before, we had poetic readings, poetic shows, different montages of “Onegin” - but they didn't have any affect on me. The true dramatic stage production first appeared in our very own theater. We mainly used the principles of montage. I mix emotion with word, word with light, light with smell, smell with a gaze. The material of beauty in Russian literature must be used, and that is what I am doing.
SR: Evgeniya, what other heroines would you like to portray?
EK: You know, I treat parts like a child in Disneyland. I want yo go on all the rides, play all the characters, try every kind of ice cream there is! So, I want all the parts in which I can be creative.
SM: Who would I like to play? This is a serious question. After playing in the films of Balabanov, Proshkin, Khotinenko, Mikhalkov…after works such as “Uncle Vanya” and “Eugene Onegin" with Tuminas, as Kovrin in “The Black Monk” directed by Kama Ginkas, who else would I like to play? I adore comedies; “Twelfth Night” directed Mirzov. Oh, how I loved playing sweet, odd Molvolio! At the moment I’m taking part in Moliere’s “The Imaginary Invalid” directed by an outstanding European director, Silviu Purkarete, especially for the Vakhtangov Theatre. This is good European theater. It has lightness, simplicity of delivering the material in the style of the French author. Not a situational comedy, not Ostovskiy, not Gogol and not Saltykov-Shchedrin, this is Monsieur Moliere, who implies the use of water colors and not heavy oil paints.
SR: Which of your many parts is or was your favorite?
SM: I loved the show “Your Majesty, our sweet father…”, which was directed and adapted by Petr Fomenko from Frederich Gorenstein’s play “Childkillers”. I played tsarevich (the eldest son of the Emperor) Alexei. Many years have passed, but I understand that I didn't get enough of that part. I still think about it…about Alexei’s
words, about the silence that was on both sides of the stage - in the curtains and in the audience. This part for me is a wound that doesn't hurt, but keeps stinging. This thought keeps coming back to me: I wish I’d been given a chance to grow up with this part. I think we performed this show for only two seasons…It happened in the 90’s, when audiences abandoned the theater. Everyone had to go commercial to survive.
SR A bit of a self-serving question, but what do you think about Stage Russia and the initiative to film Russian theater production for the States?
EK: I think it’s terrific. It allows us to share what’s most dear to us here - art and culture.
RT: “Eugene Onegin” reflects not only the genius of Pushkin, who also showed us the greatness and spirit of Russia, but also the richness of Russian culture in the XIX century. We’re proud of this production and we treasure it. We aspire to share the celebration of theater with American audiences and thank Stage Russia for a chance to do so.
SM: It’s wonderful that Stage Russia has chosen to begin with “Onegin”. We’re bringing true art to the world. In this case - the Vakhtangov Theatre, which is a brand of the highest quality. It’s great that theater is uniting in one universal, expansive field without any borders.
SR: Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, the really important questions begin: What’s your favorite meal?
EK: Absolutely anything Italian.
RT: Of course it’s borsch!
SR: And your favorite activity?
SM: I love the Russian banya. With the short broom and the ice. And a shot of vodka afterwards. What could be better!
SR: And, finally, as an American in Moscow, I’m hoping to somehow grasp the elusiveness of Russia, how would you describe the Russian soul?
EK: It’s a litmus test. It exposes pretense, but, undoubtedly, passionately answers love.
RT: There’s a big contradiction in Russian literature - every great writer wanted to create a hero more than anything else in the world, but no one was able to achieve this goal. Not a single hero has been created, not a single one. The heroes of Russian literature are huge egoists, and they are punished with the most terrifying thing - the loss of love. Russian heroes don’t usually seek revenge, they don’t kill, so they don’t do anything really bad. But there is irony in their inaction. A Russian hero is not a scoundrel, not a traitor, nor a schemer, but also not a real, 100% hero. A Russian hero is not a warrior, not a winner. The Russian heroes you can come up with have beautiful ideas and talk about higher truths.