La Bataille de Stalingrad (Requiem) (review)
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Theatre Journal 52.4 (2000) 575-576



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Performance Review

La Bataille De Stalingrad (Requim)

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La Bataille De Stalingrad (Requim). Rézo Gabriadzé and the Theatre Studio of Tblisi. Théâtre de la Ville de Paris at the Théâtre aux Abbesses, Montmartre, Paris. 18 February 2000.

IMAGE LINK= IMAGE LINK= Russian and Soviet battles raged under the lights this winter in Paris. While Prokofiev's War and Peace opened in late February at the Opéra de Bastille, the Nazi invasion of Russia mounted the stage at the Théâtre de la Ville's second space in Montmartre. Rézo Gabriadzé and his troupe from Tblisi, presented their vision of the battle of Stalingrad to Parisian audiences, following the piece's French premiere in Dijon, and its Russian debut at Sergei Obraztsov's marionette theatre in Moscow. While thematically centered on this deadliest battle of World War II, the intimately scaled piece evoked images of individual lives and their cares, loves, and hopes, tinged with loss and nostalgia--lives drastically altered by this conflagration.

At center stage stood a marionette platform, perhaps twenty feet long, with the rest of the stage draped in black. As a requiem played, lights came up on a side marionette stage, no more than four square feet total in area, an empty box filled with snow-white sand. A hooded marionette operator manipulated a rag-wreathed, desiccated character out from under the sand/snow, who then unearthed various iconographic objects: a red flag, a Soviet red star, an Orthodox cross, and finally an army helmet. These emblems of this ideological and military conflict were then pared down to an ominous final image: the empty helmet hung upon the cross.

After this stark prelude, Gabriadzé's marionettes brought a world of forgotten memories and feelings alive. The stage resembled a three-dimensional vision of Marc Chagall's paintings. A train journey took the audience back to before the war: a world of flying horses, geese, and other farm animals; orchards and flowers; and the rustic wooden homes and traditional peoples of Kiev and the Ukraine. A culture at the crossroads of modernity was captured as an old man pondered life, love, physics, electricity, and electrons. He advised young Alyosha, a horse (who, with his equine lover Natasha, formed the emotional core of the story) never to believe in love. During the lovers' first encounter, in a 1937 pre-war Berlin cabaret, the Expressionist Franz Werder entered the story, a tall and slender marionette, refined and soignée in his evening clothes and silk robe. Decadent but sympathetic, Werder represented an aesthetically refined Germany ill equipped to deal with its more brutal siblings. When booted from the cabaret, his bright red fedora replaced with a cold steel helmet, Werder found himself on the snow-covered battle ground of Stalingrad, where the strains of his lush theme song were punctuated with bursts of machine-gun fire, his body lyrically falling to the ground.

The evening progressed as six marionette operators (Ketevan Kobulia, Gaiane Takaïchvili, Nino Bregvadzé, David Bakradzé, Vladimir Meltzer, and Maxime Obrezkov) manipulated a fantastical variety of marionettes, all created by Gabriadzé. They ranged from an almost life-sized, gaunt German Field Marshal von Paulus, and an equally large and bearish Soviet General Gorenko; to a large leering bust of Stalin; to foot-sized characters such as Yasha the lemonade vendor, horses, and many others; to a diminutive ant--over thirty in all. Some had an objet trouvé quality--bedraggled, dusty, and threadbare heirlooms unearthed in an attic of verdant memories. Performed to an original sound design featuring the voices of eighteen [End Page 575] actors from Odessa (in Russian and Georgian, with a French voice over), as well as a sound-track and scenario written by Gabriadzé, the almost two-hour long show shuttled back and forth between images of machines marching, thundering, and screeching, to those of individual loves and hopes shattered.

Gabriadzé's vision of his homeland under siege shifted between a sentimental quaintness that rarely cloyed, and a macroscopic overview of war. The German "Operation Barbarossa," the invasion of...