The supertitles for the show's expository opening monologue, in which the general explains his background, are projected in a moving stream of large, easy-to-read letters that emerge from the orchestra pit and then flow across the stage floor and up the back wall. Designed by Tei Blow, the effect, so waterlike and unexpected, gives a satisfying sense of movement to the static story.
Baryshnikov's vocally subdued portrayal of the general is spiced only by his movements. His clarity of gesture is so phenomenal as to make even the simplest hand slap, head turn, or walking step a piercing dramatic event. Though his disappointing solo dance at the end of the show (choreographed by Alexei Ratmansky) involves not much more than him incessantly swirling his coat like a bullfighter's cape, in an earlier scene he performs a series of actions while dressing for his date with a precision, humor, and elegance that enthrall. The show's most stunning choreographic effect, however, is a ghostly use of aerial work that accompanies the climactic death scene.
Baryshnikov's understated performance is supported by award-winning Russian actor Anna Sinyakina, as the waitress, and an adept ensemble of Russian-trained actors and singers who proffer terrific a cappella singing (of music by Dmitry Volkov) and entertaining vocalized sound effects. A grocery store worker amusingly punctuates his speech with squeaking noises that correlate with the swipes of his rag across a glass window he pantomimes cleaning. Actors bark with frightening ferociousness as images of fierce dog faces are projected on their countenances.
The set, designed by Maria Tregubova, features oversize black-and-white photographic portraits of characters and nudes scattered about the stage and house. They sport engrossing faces that underline the play's expression of the painful solitude experienced by the displaced Russians. Yet while much is done—and quite exquisitely—to theatrically heighten the moody play, the beauty of the disjointed production proves more lulling than stimulating.
Presented by Baryshnikov Arts Center, Dmitry Krymov Laboratory, and the AG Foundation, in association with the Korjaamo Culture Factory, as part of the Lincoln Center Festival at the Gerald W. Lynch Theater at John Jay College, 899 Tenth Ave., NYC. Aug. 1–5. Wed.–Fri., 7:30 pm.; Sat., 2 and 7:30 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. (212) 721-6500 or www.lincolncenterfestival.org.