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Fyodor Makarov, the writer, director, producer and star of The Benefit of Don Vittorio, says he created the comic one-man show for his own thirtieth birthday. "I thought that a funny solo piece bringing together many of the characters I had collected over the last few years would be a good present to myself, so during a flight from New York to Tel Aviv last year, I wrote it," says Makarov, who will perform Don Vittorio in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem this week.
As the story begins, we meet Professor Don Vittorio's assistant, Don Fabricio, in the middle of preparations for a scientific conference. Soon, Don Fabricio discovers that the eminent and distinguished professor has disappeared. During the ensuing search, Makarov introduces the audience to no fewer than eleven different characters with a frenetic and captivating energy. Spiced up with opposing opinions from various scientific debates, the hunt goes on. The Pope arrives to bless the scene and a drunkard offers his skeptical outlook. The characters range from ballet dancers to the Spirit of Death, but all are used in the service of one critical goal: to make the audience laugh.
"The comedy is a reflection of reality and touches on universal, human truths," Makarov says. "It explores the duality of the world - good versus evil, West versus East etc. - in a comic way that pokes fun at a variety of things."
Largely performed in Hebrew, the play also contains songs texts in an array of languages, from German to gibberish to fake Italian. Makarov says that non-Hebrew speakers have complimented him on the comic elements of the play. "I think [the humor] has more to do with acting than language itself," Makarov says.
A native Russian speaker, Makarov is also fluent in Hebrew, French, English and German and says he speaks some Arabic and Czech. His familiarity with so many languages gives him one more comic tool he uses to his advantage, although the goal of most of his comedy is to be understood by everyone.
Makarov immigrated to Israel in 1990, finishing high school in Jerusalem and then studying theater for three years. Just before his final performance as a student, at a festival in Moscow, he had the nerves to disrupt Slava Polunin, the renowned Russian clown, as he was drinking coffee with his wife.
After speaking with Makarov, Polunin, whose Slava's Snow Show has been performed all over the world (and whose collaborative effort with Terry Gilliam, Diabolo, premiered in Israel recently) agreed to meet Professor Don Vittorio, Makarov's first invented personality, and now the star of his one-man show.
"I asked [Polunin] if he minded having a look at one of my characters, and he said 'sure,' so I introduced him to the professor," says Makarov.
After meeting Professor Don Vittorio, Polunin invited Makarov for an audition, and soon he began touring the world as one of the clowns in Slava's Snow Show.
When he returned to Israel last year, after four years of touring, Makarov knew he wanted to work on his favorite character and give life to the many new characters he had developed during his years on tour. He thought the best way to do it would be to write a solo piece in which he could perform as his myriad personalities.
"The main character, who actually goes missing at the very beginning, is Professor Don Vittorio, a very wise man and the inventor of many things," explains Makarov. The professor character was created many years ago, when Makarov was working as a translator and failed out of the philosophy program at his university. "I was working with language and intellectual texts at the time, but I also had an urge to be funny and to make people laugh. I decided that it was better to joke about philosophers than join them," Makarov says with a giggle.
He says that his parents also provided inspiration for the character. He considers his father an amateur clown, while his mother is a professor with a more serious personality.
"The response and energy I get from the audience makes each performance unique," he says. "As long as people are laughing, I consider it a success."
Makarov will perform The Benefit of Don Vittorio March 17 at 10 p.m. and March 18 at 9 p.m. at the Clipa Theater in Tel Aviv. Tickets can be ordered by calling (03) 687-9219. In Jerusalem, Makarov will appear March 21 and 22 at 9 p.m. at the Khan Theater. To order tickets, call (02) 678-3378. For more information, visit www.donvittorio.t-ve-f.com