The Kazan Times
Denis Valeyev

The distance between Moscow and Kazan is 850 kilometers or 530 miles. It took 3 years for the Russian State Theater of Nations to bring its signature Shukshin's Stories to finally premiere in Kazan. The play was staged in 2008 and only on November 20th, 2011 it was shown to Kazan viewers. Leaving our city's national leadership ambitions aside, it is especially sad that only this year Kazan had the chance to see its famed daughter Chulpan Khamatova play a big part in the project.

The play, directed by Alvis Hermanis, is based on stories written by Vasily Makarovich Shukshin (1929-1974). The play has enjoyed both popular success and critical acclaim in Russia, receiving the Golden Mask Award in 2010, Theater Critics' Award for Best Play in 2009, and the Crystal Turandot in three categories: Best Actress in a Leading Role (Khamatova), Best Actor in a Leading Role (Mironov), and Best Production. Yevgeny Mironov described their theater as relatively new: "Although we perform in a building that is 130 years old, we are a young group. The theater is about 20 years old".

Mironov said, "For us, Shukshin was a man whose books remain on the shelf and are seldom read. Hermanis told me, "You just don't understand what Shukshin is, he is your treasure". As we have toured extensively with the play, I now begin to understand those words of Alvis. Audiences in different cities laugh at the same moments in the play; it has an inner truth that cannot be denied".

Alvis Hermanis has been called the "new humanist" in the theater's world. One of the qualities that sets him apart as a director is the care with which he painstakingly observes the details of people's daily lives, and that is true whether he is working with contemporary characters or characters originating in the past. Some have suggested that Hermanis creates a "documentary" theater because of the utmost precision with which he observes and interprets the real worlds that he transforms and coaxes into theater. He creates productions exclusively about what he knows and remembers.

In this sense, Russian audiences are at a distinct advantage, for, having grown up with Hermanis more or less in the same country, they share many similar memories with him. On the other hand, Hermanis's memory is unique. As rich as it is in minute detail, it never descends into a pointless nostalgia for the past, nor does it ever wallow in a vengeful rejection of the past. Hermanis has a highly developed sense of what is phony and contrived in theater, and thus what so often makes theater old-fashioned and abhorrent to young audiences.

In Shukshin's Stories Hermanis did not ask his actors to "imitate" Soviet country bumpkins from the 1970s. On the contrary, he encouraged them to be contemporary people who tell simple and touching human tales that might happen to anyone and could be accessible to all. Moreover, he was adamant about maintaining Shukshin's original texts in an unadulterated form – the stories are played exactly as they were written.

Another premiere of the evening: Tatarstan's President Rustam Minnikhanov showed up for the theater play with his spouse. This indicated clearly enough that the first cultural event he deliberately joined this year was the chaplet of stories from the lives of Soviet farmers. It may be the e-government and Ipads era for the Tatar leadership these days, but one can never forget his roots. Or, in the other hand, it may be just a sign of that his wife, Gulsina Hanym, finally talked him into going to see some decent theater, for God's sake.

PS. The audience was overwhelmingly happy. The President sent flowers to the cast during the standing ovation. Looks like he knew it was going to be necessary: Chulpan's greatest moment.