Hilarity is at the center of Russian 'Masquerade'


Anyone wondering whether the recent turmoil in the Soviet Union has stripped the Russians of their sense of humor should stop by the Theatre Project. The return visit of St. Petersburg's Theatre Buff proves that at least one theater company is still generating laughs.

In fact, Gennady Vetrov -- the star of Theatre Buff's one-man show "Masquerade" -- is generating some of the identical laughs he did last year when he played the master of ceremonies in "Ah, Cabaret! Ah, Cabaret!".

But hey, it's still hilarious to see this guy decked out as a one-man band, wearing cymbals on his knees, castanets on his toes and an accordion loaded down with bells, whistles, kazoos, tambourines, and even an alarm clock.

As this description suggests, "Masquerade" doesn't focus on political humor. Granted, Mr. Vetrov tosses in an occasional reference to perestroika, smoking guns and something he calls the "coup flu." But the real focus of the show is silliness.

The thin format introduces the versatile clown in the guise of a St. Petersburg firefighter visiting the States to participate in a gala concert honoring his profession. (Apparently, firefighters are the butt of more jokes in the Soviet Union than they are here.)

However, this variety-style show -- directed by Theatre Buff founder Isaak Shtockbant and adapted for English-speaking audiences by Theatre Project artistic director Philip Arnoult -- doesn't really need a supporting premise. It's held together just fine by our anticipation of whatever outrageousness Mr. Vetrov will attempt next.

As it stands, only one of these attempts goes seriously awry -- an oddly macabre pantomime in which the performer tries to quiet the squawking inhabitant of a baby carriage.

Aside from this flat note, almost everything else is on key -- the key of the ridiculous, enhanced by baggy pants, silly noses and a host of homemade musical instruments, as well as snippets of audience participation and the talented musical accompaniment of Igor Balakirev.

Early on, the opening night audience began clapping rhythmically between segments; if there'd been room, they probably would have kicked up their heels as well.


When: Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m.; matinees Sundays at 3 p.m.

Through Sept. 29.

Where: Theatre Project, 45 W. Preston St.

Tickets: $10-$15.

Call: 752-8558.


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