Mayakovsky and Stalin

Leigh Kennicott Reviews - Theater
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Padua Playwrights founder Murray Mednick serves up a dish of memories whispered during his growing years, finally finding form in the lives of long-ago heroes and villains during and after the Russian Revolution. Mednick’s extensive research is very much in evidence, as he conflates two suicides --- one of Mayakovsky, a flamboyant poet  who flew in the face of the Marxist materialist turn in art; the other of Nadya (Casey McKinnon), Stalin’s own high-strung wife.

Although the two stories do not intersect here, in reality, the communities that determined Stalin’s new ruling class were very much aware of one another. Mednick has drawn character sketches that vividly bring to life these long-ago comrades to illustrate connections he made to his life as an American teen-ager in the 60s. Max Faugno is masterful, navigating through a connecting narrative as Mednick, at other times playing Stalin’s henchman, Kirov, and other Stalin fixers.

Mednick’s Mayakovsky is a study of bi-polarity, admirably essayed by Daniel Dorr; as his free-love companions, Laura Liguori as Lilya and Andy Hirsch as her ever-patient husband Osip, present perfect foils. Since their relationships with each other and with power present a play in itself, Mednick might have stopped right there. But he seems intent on unpacking the mysterious hold over all of Russia he conveyed. As Mednick reveals, Stalin’s focus on power precluded any attention to his wife, Nadya, or their two children. His Nadya is a bundle of nerves and his neglect drove her to suicide.

It is said, however, that her suicide was an act of revenge at Stalin’s slighting her at a state dinner. And, according to received legend, Mayakovsky’s suicide was as much a result of his own imbalance as it was concerted pressure from the increasingly censorious government. Both stories lead to, but refuse, hard cause-and-effect narratives, and therein lies the difficulty following Mayakovsky and Stalin as a play. As I left, I mused that due to the meticulous research in evidence, Mednick’s meditation on art vs. politics might make a better evening at home by the fire with a good glass of vodka. The script presents an education into a by-gone era when ideas were fresh and everyone was passionate about the future.

To bring Mednick’s vision to life, he surrounds his consummate group of actors with simple yet effective design. Nick Santiago provides set and projections, Shon LeBlanc adds coordinated electic costumes, and sound comes mastered by John Zalewski

Padua Playwrights presents Mayakovsky and Stalin, running through this weekend at The Lounge 2: Friday and Saturday at 8:00 PM; Sunday at 3:00 PM. The Lounge is located at 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood, CA 90038.Tickets are $25. For reservations and information, call 323-960-4443