With more than 30 years of experience in theater and film, Russian actor Evgeny Mironov has earned dozens of national and international awards for his range of performances. He founded his own theater company in 2006 and, that same year, he became artistic director of Moscow’s State Theatre of Nations. This season, Mironov and the Theatre of Nations tackle Ivanov. Running from June 14–17 at New York City Center, Mironov stars in the title role of Anton Chekhov’s iconic play, which demonstrates the writer’s comedic eye for social detail with the drama of human contradiction.
You are a critically acclaimed star of stage and screen. What keeps you coming back to the theater?
I just happen to love theater. And it’s my primary, basic profession. I am a theater actor. In theater, I seek and I gather knowledge; in film I spend it.
Ivanov was Anton Chekhov’s first stage play. What is it like to perform this iconic playwright’s early work?
Since Chekhov revised the play after its premiere, making a drama out of what was really a comedy, we thought we could make some little adjustments to the text and to find an ending that made sense to us as a modern-day troupe. Ivanov is not just a famous role, it’s a very complex one, which many actors have failed. The author, as I have learned, was unhappy with all performers he saw in this role during his life. The part he created was, at first glance, unimpressive, and actors used some old-school tricks, trying to over-dramatize or, conversely, to lighten the role. In doing so, they left behind the true nature of Ivanov, who starts off at the edge of his nervous state, which doesn’t change throughout the course of the play. Finding the key to Chekhov’s revolutionary idea was very interesting. Torturous, at times, but interesting.
Ivanov made its world premiere at the location that is now Theatre of Nations’ home stage in Moscow, Russia. Can you tell me a bit about what it is like to play the title role of this play where it made its debut?
Even before we started rehearsing, for some reason I kept imagining a loge on the right, where there is a seat from which Chekhov watched this play. We set the play in a modern era precisely because we wanted to be closer to these characters—to let them live through us and feel what the author felt for his characters. I think he thought of them as his family, as some of his closest people, as part of his circle. We wanted to feel that we existed among them—not just their daily lives, but also in their environment. After that, resetting these characters into modern times was easy to do. I think we treated this project with a lot of honesty and meticulousness, so I do hope Chekhov will indulge us.
Ivanov is not your first time performing in a Chekhov play. How do you approach playing characters in his works?
It’s complicated. This is my fourth encounter with Chekhov. First was my graduation performance, The Proposal, at the Moscow Art Theater Studio. Then I was Treplev in Oleg Efremov’s production of The Seagull and Lopakhin in Eimuntas Nekrošius’ production of The Cherry Orchard. But even though I played those roles, I didn’t get close to Chekhov by even a centimeter until Ivanov. Because in order to know your character, you must first know the person who breathed life into him: the author. I have not encountered a more closed-off author ever in my life. And I can’t say that after Ivanov that I feel any warmth toward me, from him. I feel that I’m always in conflict with this author.
You’re been Artistic Director at Theatre of Nations since December 2006. Do you have a favorite or most memorable production you’ve worked on in that time?
The first work that made me realize that our theater, the Theatre of Nations, was real, was Shukshin’s Stories, directed by Alvis Hermanis.
You are returning to New York by the invitation of the Cherry Orchard Festival after the success of Shukshin’s Stories in 2016. What are your thoughts about the Festival and how important do you think their mission is to rebuild cultural connections between Russia and US in light of the current political situation?
Honestly speaking, we are not rebuilding connections, we are just supporting them. For example, our permanent repertoire includes Pushkin’s Tales, created by a great American stage director Robert Wilson. The connection is never broken, and that’s in part thanks to Cherry Orchard Festival. It’s evident in how frequently we collaborate, and by the reaction of the audience. Art is above politics. And since today performing arts are, sadly, practically the only instrument for upholding the continuing connection between the two countries, we should cherish it, and utilize this tool as often as possible.
What’s next for yourself and Theatre of Nations?
In April we premiered Mu-Mu, based on Turgenev’s works, in a production by Dmitry Krymov. On our second stage, we will feature a play based on Anthony Shaffer’s Sleuth and then Mikhail Durnenkov’s Utopia, I also just played Lenin in an experimental work based on Red Wheel by Alexander Solzhenyitsyn. Right now I’m thinking about new works, but it’s too early to name anything.
Katie Labovitz is the Editorial Associate at New York City Center.