'Masquerade' When: Beginning Sept. 11, Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8 matinees Sundays at 3 p.m. Through Sept. 29.
Where: Theatre Project, 45 W. Preston St.
The Russians have come!
When the attempted coup occurred in the Soviet Union a few weeks ago, the Theatre Project feared that Theatre Buff of Leningrad might not make it out of the country in time to open the Project season on Wednesday. But Isaak Shtockbant, the company's founder, producer and director, says he was never worried.
"Not at all," Mr. Shtockbant insisted, speaking through a translator during a break in rehearsals earlier this week. In fact, he continued, Americans were more concerned about the upheaval than the Russian citizens were.
"We had no fear because we were all together in this," he explained. "The people didn't want it at all."
Mr. Shtockbant, actor Gennady Vetrov and four other Theatre Buff personnel arrived in Baltimore on Aug. 27, as planned. Since then, they have been translating and rehearsing Mr. Vetrov's one-man show, "Masquerade," in which he is assisted on stage by a musician and a dresser.
Like "Ah, Cabaret! Ah, Cabaret!," which Theatre Buff performed here last year, "Masquerade" exemplifies a cabaret style of comedy and improvisation that was suppressed during the Russian Revolution. Mr. Shtockbant has been largely responsible for reviving that style, through his theater company as well as at the Leningrad Theatre Academy, where he is a professor.
He is quick to tell you that Mr. Vetrov, who graduated from the academy in 1988, has gone on to a highly recognized television and stage career in Leningrad and Moscow. In addition, portions the show he'll perform at the Theatre Project -- and subsequently in Knoxville and Memphis, Tenn. -- have already been seen in Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Finland, Poland and Czechoslovakia, as well as in his native land.
In "Masquerade," Mr. Vetrov explained, he plays a half-dozen characters, including a fireman on an exchange program with Glen Burnie. The show also features audience participation during the musical sequences.
Theatre Buff, which has a two-stage facility in Leningrad, "is a theater where people can come after work, after being stressed all day, and they don't have to worry, they can rest," Mr. Shtockbant said. He confirmed that this emphasis on entertainment is typical of the Soviet theater's current focus on art -- not politics.
Both men said they expect the cultural freedoms achieved under Mikhail S. Gorbachev to continue. "Gorbachev has opened lots of doors. It's as if you open a room full of animals -- the animals run out and don't know where to go. That's the point Soviet art is at now. Artists are trying to find their own niche," Mr. Shtockbant said.
One change he does predict is that as playwrights become accustomed to increased freedom, their writing "is not all going to be coming from the head, it's going to be coming from the heart."