Barysh­nikov in ac­tion:

San Francisco Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE - By Robert Hur­witt

Mikhail Barysh­nikov — the ac­tor — stars as an ag­ing Rus­sian gen­eral in “In Paris” at Berke­ley Rep.

Lone­li­ness and an al­most de­bil­i­tat­ing melan­choly ra­di­ate from Mikhail Barysh­nikov’s ag­ing Rus­sian gen­eral in ex­ile in Dmitry Kry­mov’s “In Paris” at Berke­ley Reper­tory Theatre. The elu­sive, wary hope­less­ness of Anna Sinyak­ina’s younger com­pa­triot wait­ress matches him nicely in the in­trigu­ing but frus­trat­ingly static in­ter­na­tional col­lab­o­ra­tion that opened Wed­nes­day.

Set in a 1930s ex­pat Paris em­bod­ied in clev­erly ma­nip­u­lated gi­ant sepia-tinted post­card images, Kry­mov’s “Paris,” adapted from a short story by Ivan Bunin, is a moody, wryly comic blend of en­gag­ing vi­su­als, en­chant­ing found-ob­ject mu­sic and a ro­mance that gen­er­ates lit­tle heat. Or in­ter­est. And that un­folds very slowly. But it re­wards some con­cen­trated at­ten­tion be­yond its sig­nif­i­cance as an event.

This is not only the Bay Area’s first look at Barysh­nikov the stage ac­tor, as op­posed to the cel­e­brated dancer. It’s also our first look at the work

of Kry­mov, one of Rus­sia’s more in­flu­en­tial ex­per­i­men­tal the­ater mak­ers. A col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween Man­hat­tan’s Barysh­nikov Arts Cen­ter and Moscow’s Dmitry Kry­mov Lab­o­ra­tory, “Paris” opened last fall in Fin­land, made its Amer­i­can de­but last week in Santa Mon­ica, and heads for New York’s Lin­coln Cen­ter in Au­gust.

More — or less — than a play, Kry­mov’s “Paris” is an ex­er­cise in strip­ping the­ater to its ba­sics. Sinyak­ina and five strong ac­tors sing com­poser Dmitry Volkov’s haunt­ing and buoy­ant chorales, with the cho­rus pro­vid­ing ac­com­pa­ni­ment by blow­ing into bot­tles and beat­ing on boxes. Card­board cutout walls or cars re­volve to re­veal back­stage sup­port.

Sim­ple pup­petry is used to comic ef­fect. When an ac­tor flies, we see oth­ers han­dling the winch to one side. When Barysh­nikov and Sinyak­ina dress for their char­ac­ters’ first date, we see that too. The ex-gen­eral’s prepa­ra­tions are, frankly, a stage cliche. The wait­ress’ end­less vari­a­tions on set and cos­tume de­signer Maria Tregubova’s de­cep­tively sim­ple apron and slip — ac­com­pa­nied by Maria Gu­lik’s slyly im­pas­sioned ex­cerpts from “Car­men” — are high points of the evening.

Most of the per­for­mances are in Rus­sian and French, ac­com­pa­nied by a pro­jected English trans­la­tion that creeps at a steady pace up the stage and back wall. Tei Blow’s video de­sign adds an­other layer of vis­ual in­trigue.

The story, how­ever, re­mains un­der­de­vel­oped. Kry­mov’s adap­ta­tion is short on ei­ther evok­ing Paris or telling us much about the char­ac­ters. Their back­ground as refugees from the Bol­she­vik Rev­o­lu­tion — the gen­eral was with the Western-sup­ported White Rus­sian forces — will mean lit­tle to those who don’t know much about Rus­sia’s civil war. Their awk­ward courtship is sketched in the most rudi­men­tary terms.

It’s up to the ac­tors to pro­vide the dra­matic en­gage­ment. Sinyak­ina is a de­light work­ing with what lit­tle she’s given. Barysh­nikov holds the stage with seem­ingly ef­fort­less charisma, from be­fore the show be­gins un­til its end. His con­cen­trated, slow move­ments can be riv­et­ing. His short dance mo­ments — a quick burst of frus­trated fla­menco, a grace­ful tore­ador rou­tine (chore­og­ra­phy by Alexei Rat­man­sky) — add wel­come dra­matic punc­tu­a­tion.

But it isn’t enough. Kry­mov seems so en­am­ored of his in­ven­tive stag­ings — most of which we’ve seen han­dled more cre­atively by other di­rec­tors — that he lingers on ef­fects long enough to make us won­der what pur­pose they serve. Mean­while, the story goes beg­ging in the streets of Paris, and a mere 80 min­utes of the­ater seems a lot longer.

Maria Bara­nova

Mikhail Barysh­nikov in Dmitry Kry­mov’s “In Paris” at Berke­ley Rep.

Maria Bara­nova

As Rus­sian refugees, Anna Sinyak­ina is a de­light and Mikhail Barysh­nikov ex­udes charisma.

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