UMS hosts the opening of Rezo Gabriadze’s visually
compelling drama, “The Forbidden Christmas or The Doctor and
the Patient” this weekend. During its five-day run at the
Power Center, Gabriadze unveils the strength of the human spirit
amid the repressive politics of Stalinist Russia and the pain of
lost love.

Fine Arts Reviews
World-renowned dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov. (Courtesy of UMS)

The play focuses on the lives of a broken-hearted sailor named
Chito, played by world-renowned dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov, and a
wise and heroic doctor, played by Broadway actor Jon DeVries. The
paths of these two men intersect on a bleak Christmas Eve, as they
journey to find a cure for Chito’s ailing daughter.
Repressive politics forbid the celebration of Christmas, leaving
the two men to cultivate an alternative form of spiritual life.

A stunning component of the play is Baryshnikov’s
depiction of Chito as he deals with the painful betrayal of his
adulterous wife. In order to cope with this debilitating reality,
Chito transforms himself, trading conventional body movement for
the jarred convulsions of a car. Much like a contemporary Charlie
Chaplin, Baryshnikov is able to portray the revving engine,
mimicking the jolts and acceleration of an automobile, while
maintaining a delicate attentiveness to human emotion.

When asked about Baryshnikov’s depiction of madness in the
play, DeVries notes that Chito represents the “human instinct
for self-preservation and survival. He is able to escape into a
world of oddness and strangeness in order to maintain a sense of
inner life.” In order to resist the depths of hopelessness,
DeVries notes, “We all strive to keep our souls and spirits
alive by recreating ourselves.”

While the play’s characters seem fragile and dreamlike,
they are in fact based on vivid memories of individuals from
Gabriadze’s childhood in Soviet Georgia, including a local
physician and man who indeed thought he was a car. Gabraidze
recalls that amidst the restrictiveness of Soviet socialism,
madness seemed to provide a rare opportunity to achieve
self-expression.

With regard to his own character, DeVries noted, “I find I
can portray the Doctor with more confidence as the character has
actual historical shape … I have a visceral feeling about
him.” Commenting on the mysticism of the Doctor, DeVries
said, “The Doctor carries a sense of weight and gravity
… his knowledge over the physical world and his role in the
protection life both present a certain magical
authority.”

Considering Gabriadze’s rather ambiguous plot, it is
difficult to draw concrete themes from the play’s script.
Instead, audiences are invited to extract more nuanced meanings
from the dreamlike scenery and lighting, as well as from the
striking on-stage movement, choreographed by former Joffrey Ballet
dancer Luis Perez.

The incredible range of artistry in this play comes from
Gabriadze’s versatility as a filmmaker, painter and sculptor,
as well as an internationally acclaimed puppeteer.
Gabriadze’s beautifully painted landscapes and trinket-like
stage props provide an ethereal experience, much like an
implausible folktale passed down through generations.

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