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Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Rimas Tuminas’ selection of Tolstoy to accompany him to Israel was a deliberate act of grandeur, intended to demonstrate his admiration for the renowned author. The journey was a gesture of reverence, a tribute to the literary genius of Tolstoy and a show of respect for his timeless works.

Last year, the famous director Rimas Tuminas suddenly found himself useless neither in his native country of Lithuania nor in Russia, where he was the artistic director of the Theatre. Vakhtangov. However, he was immediately invited to Israel, to the Gesher Theater in Tel Aviv, where he successfully staged the performances Anna Karenina and Don’t Look Back. RTVI’s special correspondent Alexei Krizhevsky understood what the director brought to Tolstoy’s novel, how the creative trajectory of Rimas Tuminas is now taking shape and why he managed to get out of the ugly – and not initiated by him – scandal with dismissal without loss.

russian lithuanian director

Rimas Tuminas took the post of artistic director of the Vakhtangov Theater in the prosperous and prosperous year of 2007 – to the grumbles of the veterans of the troupe, who later fell in love with him. Thanks to many years of unhurried, but extremely productive work, he has helped transform a somewhat frozen platform at a crossroads into one of the most successful in Russia and appreciated in the world.

The director had a rather rich list of productions in his native country, which was replenished even after his appointment in Moscow. But despite this, Russian viewers, critics and officials, even in official documents preferred to call him first a Russian director, and only then a Lithuanian director.

And this, on the whole, corresponded to reality: Russia and its stadium remained for him the main object of application of forces. So much so that after February 24 he (unlike, for example, his compatriot Mindaugas Karbauskis, who successfully led the Mayakovsky Theater for eight years, but resigned from the first days of hostilities in Ukraine) continued to work at the Vakhtangov Theater.

Sergei Karpukhin / TASS

In response, there was a shout from the Minister of Culture of Lithuania, Simonas Kairis. He demanded that his compatriot leave his post in Russia, promising him otherwise the dismissal of his post at the Vilnius Maly Theater, also occupied by Tuminas.

“The statement of the Minister of Culture of Lithuania about me <…> I fully understand, I don’t blame, he is right,” Tuminas replied on his social media, “He couldn’t argue otherwise – he is a representative of the authorities, a representative of Lithuania, and Lithuania is a country of the European Union. And I, as according to Ostrovsky, “guilty without guilt.” The theater is in me, the theater is with me – I am there. So nothing can take it away from me or destroy it.

The director also did not leave the Russian military operation without comment. “Let the show ‘War and Peace’ be our response, our slogan, our position – not just mine, but the whole theater: how people go through tragedy and suffering, how we understand how much we hate it and how we should sympathize with these peoples. War and peace is our answer,” Tuminas wrote in the same post.

In this place, the cultural authorities of the Russian Federation, in the last days of February and the beginning of March 2022, actively promoting the agenda of “the abolition of Russian culture” abroad, should applaud and write the director as an ally, having received such proof of loyalty to the Russian scene from world-class masters.

But something incredibly opposite happened. The director was the victim of a prank. The subscriber, who introduced himself as Ukrainian Culture Minister Oleksandr Tkachenko, offered Tuminas a job in Ukraine – to direct a play about Stepan Bandera. Tuminas accepted.

The recording was later aired on RuTube’s “Show Wheel” channel. The reaction of the authorities was quite quick: the Minister of Culture of the Russian Federation Olga Lyubimova dismissed Tuminas by her decision, and Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin deprived the Lithuanian of the Russian government prize, which Tuminas received in 2021 for production of Oedipus Rex.

Very far away

However, already in May, Tuminas accepted an invitation from the Israeli theater “Gesher” (translated from Hebrew – “Bridge”). This theater was established in 1991 by director-innovator Yevgeny Arye, who moved to Israel, together with his students, as well as later repatriated graduates from Moscow and Leningrad who joined later.

Inaugurated by a production of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard, translated by Joseph Brodsky, Gesher has grown from a small amateur studio to a veritable theatrical institution. And he succeeded, it seems, not so much by luck as by hard work – a year after its founding, the theater began to perform in Hebrew, gradually becoming part of the linguistic environment and theatrical landscape. from the country. At the same time, Gesher does not forget to provide his performances with Russian subtitles.

Scene from the play “Anna Karenina” Gesher Theater

Rimas Tuminas repeated in miniature the success of the stage itself: during his performances in the Tel Aviv hall, Hebrew and Russian-speaking audiences mingle equally, leaving their linguistic ghetto for an evening. As a result, the Israeli public received, one after the other, two resounding successes from the ex-artistic director of the Theatre. Vakhtangov, and the director, who left Russia with a wolf ticket, continued his rather exceptional career as if nothing had happened.

Tuminas’ directorial tour of Israel turned into a residency in its own right – while working on Anna Karenina, he helped a colleague who fell ill and premiered the play Don’t Look Back based on Eurydice by Jean Anouilh. Another guest director, Alexander Bargman of the Such Theater in St. Petersburg, started directing it in Gesher, but for health reasons he was forced to stop working.

As a result, the premiere of “Don’t Look Back” became a historic event for this scene – the first performance of “Gesher” in Russian in 25 years.

Also, Russian-speaking repatriated actors take part in it: Anatoly Bely, Nikita Goldman-Kokh, Mikhail Umanets and others. Theater manager Lena Kreidlina said she conceived of the production as a gesture of support for newly arrived theater professionals – but ultimately received a “two-in-one” from a world-renowned director.

The second – and obviously the main – element of this unexpected residency was a staging of Tolstoy’s famous novel, produced in Hebrew with the participation of local actors only. In the literal sense: from Russian in the production there remained only names, toponyms and the word “muzhik”, which is extremely funny (as Teatral magazine notes) resounding in the mouth of a Hebrew-speaking actor.

Anna Karenina in Tel Aviv

For Tuminas himself, “Anna Karenina” became the continuation of a kind of Tolstoy cycle, opened by the most successful “War and Peace” on the stage of the Theater. Vakhtangov. The staging of the epic novel became a real sensation – the audience said that the almost five-hour performance of the famous Moscow scene went unnoticed for them, and the loving and respectful reading aroused in them strong feelings for, perhaps, an unread work from school.

The unloved Karenina in the hands of an Israeli master of the stage was also notable for its levity – suffice it to say that Tuminas turned it into a comedy. At the same time, he avoided the use of modern technologies to manage the classics – he did not transfer the action to the present day, did not add a single line, but only chose and exaggerated the stroke of each character, and also gave the actors some room for non-vulgar, but almost clownish reshoots.

Scene from the play “Anna Karenina” Gesher Theater /

Tuminas also avoided literalism – no full-scale steam locomotives on the scene of the finale, of course, the viewer will see. But he retained the smile of that loving director from Cheshire, which was invisibly present even in War and Peace. At the same time, the spectator goes to the boulevard in front of the theatre, continuing to play the game set up by the director, to solve the riddles and allusions that populate the production.

Culture without cancellation

Two Israeli productions by the Lithuanian director are sweet, in the style of Tuminas himself, a lesson to all who “persecute and hate him”. After all, an artist who has something to say to the world will always find his place there, even if the two countries, which he calls his homeland, refuse him.

Gleb Shchelkunov / Kommersant

Tickets for all of his upcoming productions at Gesher are sold out. In April 2023, Tuminas will leave Israel for Italy to direct Ghosts, Henrik Ibsen’s masterpiece, about the ghosts of the dead who want to dominate the living.

Theater Artistic Director’s Chair. Vakhtangov is symbolically empty. His name on the posters in Russia is covered with black bands while the troupe, orphan without its leader, finishes playing its performances (the next War and Peace are March 20 and 21).

Thus, the children finish eating the last sweets from the uncleaned table the next morning after the holidays.

The opinion of the author may not coincide with the opinion of the editors

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