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Off-Broadway Review

'Opus No. 7' Attempts to Heal the Past

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'Opus No. 7' Attempts to Heal the Past
Photo Source: Pavel Antonov

The ambiguously titled “Opus No. 7,” conceived and directed by Dmitry Krymov, is a memory play, with the emphasis, refreshingly, on play. The animating spirit—unique to the theater—that turns ordinary people into magicians and objects into talismans has found a rare medium in Krymov. A designer and painter who turned to directing 10 years ago, Krymov is a minor artistic celebrity in Russia. If “Opus” is any indication, that success is due in part to the broad heart he brings to his avant-garde storytelling.

“Opus No. 7,” created in 2008, uses experimental techniques—montage, acrobatic physicality, site specificity—to symbolically heal the former Soviet Union’s much-scarred history. In Part 1, “Genealogy,” Krymov’s company of seven performers (eight total, but one actor replaces another in the second act) runs across a long, bare stage to collect the scrambled, half-remembered narratives of Jewish families lost in the horrors of the last two centuries. Upstage on a long white wall, ghosts egg them on, sometimes in film clips, other times by hanging suits that stand for their absent bodies or through figures painted on the wall by the performers. Shoes, eyeglasses, and other accouterments litter the stage, and the actors, as though overwhelmed by the detritus of so much violence and unsure of how to proceed, resort to singing songs made of the names of the lost. It’s the most honest and vulnerable relation to the past one can ask for. 

Part 2, “Shostakovich,” suffers from a more obvious and less surprising narrative. We watch as the composer, given an enthusiastic and Chaplinesque interpretation by Anna Sinyakina, delicately dodges persecution by the Soviet authorities for his “formalist” music only to wither under the toll of his compromises. Condemning Stalinism is easier—and less interesting today—than wrestling with the inaccessibility of a murdered culture. But the piece is bracketed by the evening’s more extravagant flourishes: first, a giant, gun-toting puppet that stands for Stalin but looks like a grandmotherly Margaret Thatcher, and later an army of metal piano cases that collide like bumper cars.

Despite the impressive symbiosis of Krymov’s company, “Opus No. 7” is as much a theater of objects as of people, and the sometimes tender, sometimes violent interactions between the two make for the most electric moments. My favorite comes after Mikhail Umanets stands next to a sketch of a group of children that has been quickly drawn by his cast mates: A child’s arm suddenly detaches and of its own accord grasps the actor’s outstretched hand. The moment is moving not because the “magic of theater” lets us touch the past, but because it reminds us that we can’t. In scenes such as this, imagined as much by Krymov as by his designers Vera Martynova and Maria Tregubova (both his students), the reward of his theater of play is not its own virtuosity but the revelations of experience that it offers its audience.

Presented by and at St. Ann’s Warehouse, 29 Jay St., Brooklyn, N.Y. Jan. 13–19. (212) 352-3101, (866) 811-4111, (718) 254-8779, www.theatermania.com, or www.stannswarehouse.org.

Critic’s Score: B+

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