The entire production takes place in a dressing room with two make-up stations and two mirrors. There is a rack of dresses and wigs scattered around the room. This is a work in progress. A large sign on the entrance door reads, “Silence! Performance continues.”
Khamatova and Mironov come in in what could easily be their usual street wear: a hoodie, jeans, an unpretentious black shirt. Over the course of the performance, they will transform on stage, changing their clothes and appearance as they age.
The two actors begin by reading their lines and discussing how to impersonate their characters. Slowly, through discussion, they take over their roles, most visibly by imitating accents: Mikhail’s southern Cossack-derived pronunciation with elongated vowels and Raisa’s high-pitched chirping from an enthusiastic philosophy major in a country where the only accepted school of philosophy was Marxism .
Khamatova and Mironov, who are among the best actors of their generation, leave the stage just once for the intermission in this three-hour performance. Slowly and seamlessly, they read and act out their lives: the story of Stalin’s purges is followed by the horrific war with Germany. Then their lives will be consumed by their university love affair and, finally, by Gorbachev’s rise to the top through the ranks of party nomenklatura.
The story of Gorbachev at the helm of one of the world’s two superpowers is treated as background noise: “It was only one six-year working day,” Raisa says from the stage. Finally, by the time the actors are fully immersed in their characters, all we see is a 90-year-old Mikhail. (Right now, Mironov is wearing a mask that covers his entire head, with Gorbachev’s port wine birthmark in full view.) For the last few minutes, Mikhail is alone, grieving his wife’s 1999 death from leukemia, recalling her last words: “Remember if we returned the white shoes we borrowed from Nina for our wedding?”
The success of the play and the insatiable The demand for tickets that sell out in half an hour and cost up to $250 can be attributed to the fact that the creators had something personal at stake.
For Hermanis, Gorbachev, who liberated his native Latvia from the Soviet yoke, was the third person “who changed his life the most after his father and mother,” he said in an interview with a Russian state broadcaster.