The Colorado Shakespeare Festival experienced a “Russian invasion” in 2011, as members of the prestigious Maxim Gorky Drama Theatre in Vladivostok came to direct and perform in Gogol’s classic comedy, “The Inspector General.”
Now it’s time for the Americans to return the favor as two members of the CSF Resident Acting Company, Geoffrey Kent and Jamie Ann Romero, reprise their summer 2012 roles in the comedy “Noises Off” in Vladivostok on Oct. 26.
In a mirror image of 2011, the exchange will feature a bilingual performance, in which Kent and Romero will speak their lines in English alongside Russian actors speaking their native language.
Sound … awkward? It’s anything but, said CSF Producing Artistic Director Philip Sneed.
“Audiences come to realize how much actors speak in a language that’s non-verbal,” said Sneed, who will help oversee final rehearsals and celebrate the Gorky’s 80th anniversary.
Michael Frayn’s manic play-within-a-play farce earns many of its laughs through non-verbal antics. And in CSF’s recent production critics called out Kent and Romero for their hysterical performances as a dimwitted actress playing an even dimmer sex kitten and an exasperated actor playing a British man hoping to get her character into the sack.
“’Noises Off’ is such a physical play. It’s an intensely visual experience and audience members can get confused even in English,” said Kent, who departed for Russia with Romero on Oct. 22. “But they still laugh when your pants are down around your ankles or you run into a door. It’s the international language of physical comedy.”
Kent says that working with director Gorky theater director Efim Zvenyatskiy in 2011 was at first frustrating, then liberating. The language barrier meant that English-speaking actors had to curtail the usual question-and-answer process with the director and simply make choices onstage.
“After that first week, I had a blast,” he said.
The upcoming exchange is just the latest in a series of between CU Arts & Sciences faculty and staff and the Gorky. Sneed has overseen eight cultural exchange projects with the Gorky, including the 2011 production of “The Inspector General.”
In 2007 Sneed, Department of Theatre Chair Bud Coleman and Kerry Cripe, technical director for both the festival and the department, traveled to Vladivostok to explore exchange possibilities.
In 2008, Coleman and CSF costume designer Clare Henkel, who is also Sneed’s wife, were chosen by the U.S. Department of State to be cultural envoys to the city. Coleman directed and choreographed a musical, “Company,” with students from the Far Eastern Academy of Fine Arts, and Henkel designed costumes for the production.
Sneed and Henkel initiated the exchange with the Gorky in 1992, when they were freelance theatre artists in San Diego. The relationship continued the Foothill Theatre Company in northern California, during Sneed’s 12-year tenure as director. The Gorky connection continued at CSF when Sneed took over as producing artistic director in 2006.
The 2012 exchange is being funded entirely by the Gorky theatre.
Sneed also is traveling to Prague in the Czech Republic to discuss the future of Tina Packer’s “Women of Will,” a five-play cycle about Shakespeare’s women characters that had its first extended run on the CSF stage during the summer.