- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 3, 2001

Take two parts ballet, add one part pantomime, three parts acting and one part music and let simmer for two years.

The result is a breathtaking performance of Russian poet Aleksandr Pushkin's "The Little Tragedies" by the Stanislavsky Theater Studio, revived from the troupe's 1998-99 season.

Black and red carpet laid on the stage and the lack of stationary set pieces in the simple Church Street black-box theater in the Dupont Circle area help the company transport audiences inside these tragedies.

The actions are not pantomime in the classic sense, but neither are they the extravagant whirlings of Cirque du Soleil. Controlled and focused, they are easy to interpret and move the stories along with their precision.

"The Little Tragedies" combines four of Pushkin's short poetic dramas. "The Miserly Knight," "Mozart and Salieri," "Don Juan (or The Stone Guest)" and "The Feast During the Plague" all tell of bleak moments in humanity and the struggles to maintain joy amid harsh circumstances.

The company captures the delicacies of each story, but the performers are most outstanding in "Mozart and Salieri" and "Don Juan." Andrei Malaev-Babel, the producing artistic director, proves to be flamboyant as both Mozart and Leporello, Don Juan's servant. In both roles, he delivers his lines with gusto.

Temur Tsaguira, the company's vocal director, is stunning as the murderous Salieri. Singing mostly of his revenge, Mr. Tsaguira seems doubly treacherous as his sonorous voice and confident presence help convince us that he can kill the upstart Mozart. He also plays the singer in "The Feast During the Plague" and performs a chilling lament.

Paata Tsikurishvili, the show's artistic director, proves to be a delight to watch as Don Juan, in pursuing the recently widowed Donna Anna. His acting is some of the most precise in the company. He even fences without a sword. In addition, his lines are vivid and bold and his actions big and splashy. At the end, when the statue of Donna Anna's deceased husband comes to take Don Juan to hell, his facial expressions and movements catch the agony and terror of the experience.

In startling contrast is his performance as the hunched-over Miserly Knight. As his greed gets the better of him, he barely says a word but hobbles around letting his actions speak more clearly.

Resident choreographer Irina Tsikurishvili was nominated for the 1999 Helen Hayes Outstanding Choreography award for her work with "The Little Tragedies," and it is easy to understand why. Turning people into torches, treasure chests and balance scales, the choreography pulses under all the story lines, propelling them toward their tragic ends.

The four pieces, although all have shocking endings, are a compelling theatrical venture. Cathartic and riveting, the spectacle and long periods of silence keep the audience perched, waiting in anticipation.

Magically mystifying, "The Little Tragedies" flawlessly merges movement and storytelling for a fantastical presentation.

{*}{*}{*}WHAT: "The Little Tragedies"WHERE: Stanislavsky Theater Studio at Church Street Theater, 1742 Church St. NWWHEN: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays, through March 25TICKETS: $25, with senior and student tickets available on Thursdays and Sundays for $18PHONE: 202/265-3748WEB SITE: www.sts-online.org

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