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Wednesday, Feb 6 2008

Tony Kushner's quirky rumination on the political fate of Russia in the 1980s and 1990s could easily be seen as nothing more than a clever intellectual exercise. Yet the combination of our own heady political times and the snappy production by Custom Made Theatre Company makes the story about how a world power chooses and then lives with its future more than just frivolous banter. Is it better, as party faithful Smukov asks, to "not move until we know where we are going"? Or should we cast aside such measured, stultifying caution and, as the suddenly unblind Upgobkin proclaims, leap into the unknown? Kushner ponders these and many more questions, adding theatrical whimsy and plain old human greed into the mix to maintain our attention. Director Brian Katz keeps the 90-minute production moving swiftly, and Megan Briggs gives a standout performance as Katherina, the bored and feisty lesbian who guards the pickled brains of once-great leaders. The mostly good cast embraces Kushner's dense language with gusto, leaving us with the question of how people can decide what they want from their country when, as Upgobkin puts it, "not even the dead can see what is to come."

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Molly Rhodes


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