A Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Promise"

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note: entire contents copyright 2005 by Larry Stark

"The Promise"

by Aleksei Arbuzov Directed by Lilia Levitina

Set & Costume Design by Maria Koreneva, Leonid Osseny & Irina Romm
Music Arrangements by Emily Romm
Guitar Improvisations by Mark Shmulevich
Lighting Design by Nicolas Vargelis
Choreography by Felix Ivanov
Set Construction by Eric Polyak
Crew: Lev Gorenstein & Josie Chandler

Lika...........Sara Peterson
Marat.........Walter Belenky
Leonidik......Jedediah Baker

In "The Promise" Aleksei Arbuzov examines eighteen years of Soviet history --- from the siege of Leningrad to the Khruschev years --- from the point of view of three youngsters yearning to grow into a builder of bridges, a medical researcher, and a poet. The fate of their promise is played out through a romantic triangle bounded by the fact, born in war, that they truly love one another. Director Lilia Levitina has used sharp realism, poetic theatrical abstraction, and interludes of grainy black-and-white film projected across the set to tell this very human story.

Michael Savikovsky has compiled a two-page summary of the historical background for the story which is best read after seeing the play to its conclusion. The guns and bombs and hunger of 1941 are graphically apparent in a 15-year-old girl's matter-of-fact "When the people next door die, we can get their furniture to burn." The ease of peace is demonstrated by a tassled cloth shade over the ceiling's bare bulb. Slippers and tea appear when the trio in mid-thirties realize that their promise remains unfulfilled --- though they still believe in the possibility of a new, sincere beginning in the midst of life.

Again and again, Director Levitina makes subtle use of the triangular set, positioning Sara Peterson, Walter Belenky and Jedediah Baker at three separate points while they argue about their lives, their loves and their hopes. The actors re-set the stage, still in character, in dimmed light. Once or twice a character fondles a trumpet (which he never plays) while music underscores his hopes. Increased affluence is symbolized by the straightening of toppled beams and window-frames hung between them. Though the played without interruption, "act breaks" are marked with flashes of historical film splashed over the entire set.

These three survivors of the frozen horrors of Leningrad are conscious --- as most Americans never were --- of "... how many millions died so we might live?" That makes their commitment to the fulfillment of "The Promise" piercingly apparent. Doubtless the many ex-Russians there opening night --- intently, silently respectful until their explosion of applause at final curtain --- saw deeper into the events of the play, but the human drama is obvious to everyone.


"The Promise" (20 January - 5 February)
Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street, BOSTON, MA.
1 (617) 933-8600

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide