Written by Ivan Viripaev
Translated + Directed by Cazimir Liske
“It's like a bedtime story gone awry. The threat is our inability to make sense of a shifting universe, to really know another human being and keep love constant.” – The Guardian
BAC presents the U.S. Premiere of celebrated contemporary Russian playwright Ivan Viripaev's Illusions, translated and directed by American theater artist Cazimir Liske, a Moscow Art Theatre School graduate. Through intertwining stories of two married couples, Illusions playfully unravels paradoxes of passion and death, loyalty and betrayal, truth and fiction, in a darkly comedic examination of true love.
BAC Resident Artist Cazimir Liske developed this production of Illusions in residence at BAC. The American Premiere creative team includes Arnulfo Maldonado (set design), Oana Botez (costume design), Thomas Dunn (lighting design), Vladimir Gusev (video), and Gocha Tsinadze (music).
Scroll to read the BAC Story and watch a video from the residency.
Pre-Performance Conversation with Ivan Viripaev and Cazimir Liske
Sep 17 at 7PM / Studio 4A
Free Admission / Reservations Required
Generous support provided by the AG Foundation and the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation.
"'Illusions,' a Tale of Two Couples Who Are Lifelong Friends"
"Illusions at Baryshnikov Arts Center"
"Performance Community Culture Curator: Illusions at Baryshnikov Arts Center"
"Off-Broadway Theater Review: ILLUSIONS"
Russia’s foremost contemporary playwright and screenwriter, Ivan Viripaev, is a graduate of the Irkutsk Drama School and Moscow Drama School. He founded the theater group Play Space, and is artistic director of the Praktika Theater in Moscow. Viripaev’s acclaimed theater works include Illusions (2011), July (2006), Genesis No 2 (2004), and Oxygen (2003). He has written and directed films including Delhi Dance (2012), Oxygen (2009), and Euphoria (2006). Among his many accolades are the prestigious Golden Mask Award, the International New Drama Festival Award, and awards at the Venice, Warsaw, and Sochi film festivals.
Born in Denver, Colorado, theater artist Cazimir Liske is a graduate of Dartmouth College and trained at the Moscow Art Theatre School. His Moscow stage credits include Illusions (Praktika), Lafkadio (Meyerhold Center), and Woe from Wit and West Side Story (Moscow Art Theatre). In the UK, credits include the Actors Touring Company’s production of Sarah Kane’s Crave and Liske’s English language translation of Ivan Viripaev’s Illusions, directed by Ramin Gray. Other collaborations with Viripaev include Delhi Dance, Sugar, and Grace and Grit. Liske is a faculty member of the Moscow Art Theatre School.
BAC Story by Helen Shaw
Jan 14, 2014
It's just a few days before director Cazimir Liske's showing, yet there's very, very little on stage, and conversations between actor and director still have the meditative calm of a spiritual retreat. Liske is running the ending of Illusions, his translation of the Ivan Viripaev drama at Baryshnikov Arts Center, and somehow urgency could not seem more distant. The lack of hustle-bustle is a kind of triumph of Liske's control—at an early design meeting there was talk of moving screens, of costumes that somehow illustrated time itself.
Yet while a few explosions of theatricality do pepper Liske's staging (small tricks with a microphone, a bank of hot lights that blind the audience) the room seems to drift in grey limbo, a Zen state of no-mind. Even in front of an audience, that sensation of introspection and deep quiet will remain.
Liske's journey with Illusions has been long and long. A Dartmouth student studying Italian literature, he took a sudden interest in theater, then enrolled in an English-language summer program created by the O'Neill Center and the Moscow Art Theater after Chekhov (MXAT). What was meant to be a brief adventure turned into a life's pursuit: Once in Moscow, Liske began studying with the actor Konstantin Raikin, took a degree from the MXAT Acting School, and began a busy career in Moscow as an actor and now teacher and director. Virapaev, one of the thrilling young talents in the burgeoning Russian playwrighting scene, is a friend. After performing in Illusions, first in Moscow and then at the Royal Court in London, Liske still hadn't had enough of this strange, nearly silent work, so he retranslated it and took it on as a directing project.
In some ways, despite his training, Liske works against the Russian grain. “My process,” he says, “depends much more on the author than on the director. What I've been interested in in the last year is theater that connects the audience with theauthor—rather than with the director, or even the actors.” The result is something that looks like documentary theater (direct address, simplicity, a sense of an ongoing conversation), yet is actually asking eternal questions rather than dealing with current events.
Illusions tells the intertwining tale of two octogenarian couples, Sandra and Denny and Albert and Margaret. Four actors—variously trustworthy—approach a microphone to narrate the couples' stories confidingly to the audience. Stephanie Hayes, exquisitely precise, welcomes the watchers with a 'hello,' but she measures out her affections carefully. In rehearsal she asks whether she should work in “the smiles” more. “I just happen to have the most serious bits in the piece,” worries Hayes, “Should I be smiling?”
Considering that Hayes has just described the death of one character, a woman tortured by considerable heartbreak, you can see why she might be concerned.Yet despite the story's constant emphasis on death, Liske directs his actors to attain a constant state of upward tending joyfulness. Actress Annie Purcell describes it in rehearsal as “this euphoric, ecstatic thing” —or, another time, “an unfurling feeling of love.”
Love is all over Illusions. There's no stylish irony here; the characters' central concern is whether “true” love must be requited love, a point the story's subjects return to as they ponder the fidelity of their spouses. All four characters will die preoccupied by this issue; lifelong friendships are torn apart. Viripaev's hypnotic text, particularly as translated by Liske, worries over this emotional point for almost its entire length, returning obsessively to it, striking it as the favorite chord. Sentimental melodrama is presented as minimalism, so the fact that the speakers refuse to “perform” enlarges the question about love—these non-pretending narrations make us feel as though the actor-audience relationship is on a strange new footing. Our desire for escapism and pretense and illusion is, tellingly, unrequited.
In rehearsal, the examination goes deeply inward. Conversation turns to the James Turrell exhibit at the Guggenheim (the light artist who can make a glowing light source seem like a door into the infinite) and to each performer's understanding of death. The goal for Liske, though, is that these conversations penetrate into the audience. “The thing that I find at the center of Viripaev's piece is that death is a great teacher. It teaches us that love is the path in life. There is, it turns out, a path that can bring you to less suffering. And it has nothing to do with religion, with metaphysics. It's just practical! But this is the important stuff; these are the things we ought to talk about. I mean, is there any other question we should be asking?”
Helen Shaw currently writes about theater for Time Out New York magazine and teaches theater studies and theater theory at NYUTisch. Previously, she was senior theater critic for the NewYork Sun and has contributed to the Village Voice, Performing Arts Journal, Playbill, TheatreForum, the Jewish Daily Forward, and the forward for Mac Wellman’s anthology of plays, The Difficulty of Crossing a Field. She curated the Prelude festival in 2011 and 2012, and coordinated programs at the Martin E. Segal Theater Center for approximately the same period. She also works as a dramaturg, and has assisted Martha Clarke, Lear deBessonet, and Simon McBurney. She has an MFA in dramaturgy from the American Repertory Theater Institute at Harvard University and a BA in Anthropology from Harvard.