Pulling some strings

A Georgian theater is presenting its part-puppet version of Chekhov's 'Lady With the Dog' in Jerusalem.

marionettes 88 248 (photo credit: Qali Sachuqrad)
marionettes 88 248
(photo credit: Qali Sachuqrad)
"The complicated interaction between the puppets and the human actors onstage - this is what, in my opinion, makes the show special," says Georgian stage director Levan Tsuladze (44), as he speaks over the phone from Tbilisi about The Lady With the Dog, adapted from Chekhov's short story. This new piece, staged just half a year ago at Kote Mardjanishvili Theater, one of Georgia's best, will be presented in Israel during the Israel Festival later this month. Chekhov's little literary gem is a story of a banal sea resort love affair between an experienced married man and a naïve younger woman, married to a "lackey," as she defines her husband, which unexpectedly evolves into a true love. The author leaves his characters at the moment they realize that they can't live without each other and hope that "the things will somehow settle down." The production was originally commissioned by one of Russia's theater festivals as part of 2009's Chekhov's Year celebrations, "but then the war between Russia and Georgia broke out and we made the show just for ourselves," recollects Tsuladze. "Chekhov was blessed with a special talent to tell an entire world in just a few phrases," muses Tsuladze, "and we followed his text. I believe that everything we have invented in our show also exists in the story, even if it is was not written." The "cast" includes four actors, seven puppeteers and "about 25-30 puppets of different sizes - marionettes and larger puppets. There even is a crowd of extras onstage," smiles Tsuladze. "I do not really know how the idea of including them into the show crossed my mind. But these are the puppets, which create an illusion of dream onstage." Which, after all, is not surprising - not only does Georgia enjoy a great tradition of puppet theater for adults, but Tsuladze himself has created quite a few puppet shows. "We have realized that Chekhov wrote his story on the verge of the 20th century, and in just five years from that time, sheer madness descended upon Russia. The world of Chekhov, of Turgenev and Leo Tolstoy was gone, giving way to a new, different culture - and this is probably why we decided to tell it a bit differently." In Tsuladze's stage version, the story is told some 15-20 years later, within the turmoil of the civil war in Russia. "The central character's friend, once a professor and now homeless, finds a white porcelain dog in a basement, left by a family who escaped the town, fleeing the horrors of war; this dog serves as a trigger for his memories." Vakhtang Kakhidze, one of the country's leading conductors and composers (and often a guest in Israel), created "the music drama for the show. I've been working with him for years and we enjoy complete understanding. Vakhtang knows theater perfectly; his music always bears a special Georgian flavor, if not in a melody, then in intonation. He included into the score an old romance, performed by a famous Georgian singer Nani Bregvadze, and he himself sings without words, giving voice to speechless puppets." Tsuladze confides that for him, the current show is a sort of a nostalgic journey to Russia, which people of his generation knew and loved, and which is no more, "just as it is for the storytelling professor onstage. The war has influenced our work - now we got to know another facet of Russia, and we hope that this is not forever," muses the director, adding that "irony and self irony, characteristic of Georgian theater and cinema, are the traits that have always helped us to keep our dignity and personal independence." The Lady With the Dog will be presented at the Jerusalem Theater May 25 and 26. For reservations: 1-700-702-015 or www.israel-festival.org.il.