The New York Times
Felicity Barringer

On the second stage of the venerated Maly Theater here, James, Mary, Edmund and Jamie Tyrone are trying to untangle their hatreds and groping to save one another in Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night. At the small studio-theater of Oleg Tabakov, the raw recruits of Neil Simon's Biloxi Blues are discovering cruelty and camaraderie to the strains of the Russian Gypsy song Ochi Chyorniye. ... Call it "Broadway on the Moskva," or "the Americans are coming." More than ever before, the Soviet theatrical world given form and voice by Stanislavsky and Meyerhold is speaking with an American accent. ... As the critic Sergei Ostrovsky put it, Biloxi Blues and other American plays here "prove that theater can exist so that actors can love the characters they play ... and not just so they can declaim some sort of stripped-down political ideas." "The American plays offer people a resonance, a projection of their own inner problems and thoughts," said Vitaly Vulf, who has translated Tennessee Williams and has written on the history of American drama in the Soviet Union.

... Biloxi Blues, particularly, confronts Soviet audiences with a variety of issues seldom touched on, or offered only in a preordained moral context. One is the theme of scared young men preparing to go to war, a theme that touches a raw nerve in a country that has lost thousands of young soldiers to the eight-year war in Afghanistan. Wars here are always righteous, and Soviet soldiers are usually both brave and on the side of the angels. But as the uneasy privates in Biloxi Blues talk about the chances of death, the sense of right and wrong is missing. The sense of fear is not. More strikingly presented in that play is the theme of anti-Semitism, the confrontations between Pvt. Arnold Epstein and Sgt. Merwin J. Toomey, the bitterness, intimate hatred and odd attraction between two men from different worlds. A generation after the Stalin-inspired anti-Semitic waves of the late 1940s and early 50s, Jewish themes are seldom touched on the Soviet stage. When they are, either they stay within the familiar shtetls of Sholom Aleichem, or they are offered with sharp moral commentary ("Don't emigrate," exhorts a current drama, No. 40 Sholom Aleichem Street.) Biloxi Blues shows anti-Semitism without frills, the more deadly for its unadorned directness. "I don't know when we've ever seen something like this treatment of Jews," said one Jewish theatergoer. "American dramas are pitiless, strong," said Mr. Vulf. "They reveal everything without any masks."

The premiere of Desire Under the Elms will provide another sort of milestone as well. The acting, like the theater, will be Russian. But the director, for the first time on a Moscow stage, will be an American, Mark Lamos of the Hartford Stage Company. He is the first of at least four American directors expected to arrive in the Soviet Union in the next year, bringing more American drama with them. Theodore Mann will be directing under the auspices of the Maly, and two other directors are also expected shortly. ... The directors' assignment, as Mr. Lamos and Mr. Mann understand it, is to bring true American theatrical style to Soviet audiences. But within days of their arrival, both men found themselves taken aback by a striking difference in Soviet and American theatrical styles: the emotion gap. "They seem to have trouble holding back, letting their emotions build to a peak throughout a scene," said Mr. Lamos. "You can see it coming – the diaphragm pulls up, the chest goes out, and you know a declamation's coming." The tendency Mr. Lamos was trying to discourage is strikingly evident in other productions of American works here. "They tend to go overboard emotionally," said Mr. Mann. But, he added, "there's as much value in another culture looking at our material through their lens as there would be in us looking at their classics through our culture. They have no past education; they come to it quite innocently."

The result may be peppered with stereotypes – James Tyrone, the Irish-born actor from Connecticut, dons a cowboy hat in Long Day's Journey – but can offer remarkable new interpretations of old characters, Mr. Mann said. For instance, in Long Day's Journey, the mother, Mary, is presented as a much more aggressive and sensuous woman than Western audiences are accustomed to. More important, he added, is that "the public have an opportunity to see us, our culture, though our plays now. The ones that have come here are the very best representations of our philosophy, our country, our own inner turmoil. Our plays don't show things as complacent or solved. There's upheaval. Maybe there's something in the emotional revolution or evolution that they are going through that makes them empathize with us."