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Forbidden Christmas or the Doctor and the Patient

Part of Lincoln Center Festival 2004

by David Lipfert

Mikhail Baryshnikov is back at Lincoln Center. But not as a dancer--well, not exactly. Instead he's in his favorite new role: a cutup with celebrity pizzazz-and audiences love it. He plays the engagingly insane Chito, who thinks he has died (near-death to be precise) and become a vintage auto with a wind-up starter attached to his heart. A few twists of the crank and his body purrs like a rumbly engine. It's when he invites the villagers of Kutaisi in western Georgia for a ride that he crashes into reality. But they know to leave well enough alone, all except the Doctor (Jon DeVries).

Up to now the grumpy doctor has graciously looked beyond Chito's blissful skipping about the town (the closest he can get to maneuvering his human-body auto). One snowy night when Chito rouses the doctor from his well-deserved rest to visit a sick little girl, and the doctor calls time out. He believes Chito's and his own problems will magically disappear if the patient is brought to his senses, and he administers a strong beating to make it happen. The doctor is successful, but it's a victory no one can live with-least of all Chito's common-law wife. So when Chito's delusions are restored and both he and the doctor lay to rest their unresolved family history, all can breathe a collective sigh of relief. ).

Author and director Rezo Gabriadze takes the scenic route to tell this simple story. Unlike his puppet theater action-- and image-packed Battle of Stalingrad (review linked below) that enthralled Lincoln Center Festival 2002 audiences, here everything is in low gear. Cheery Chito comes off as a sad sack and DeVries's blustery Doctor an eccentric windbag. Saving the journey is none other than Chito's guardian angel with detachable wings. Luis Perez (also the choreographer) does triple duty, first rescuing Chito from the bottom of the sea and then easing his sometimes-tortured encounters with society (Pilar Witherspoon and Yvonne Woods playing various characters). Finally Gabriadze allows him to rescue the drawn-out tale with congenial touches and a generous helping of wit. Perez adds needed traction during the fanciful wordless interludes that pull heavily from Gabriadze's inventiveness more evident in Stalingrad.

There's also a political dimension for Forbidden Christmas. The early 1950s saw Stalinism's apogee when religious observance was strictly forbidden. "Merry Christmas" had to be whispered, and only Chito's madness could excuse him from toeing party line. And antics aside, Christian forgiveness is the true theme of the tale. Chito's baffling insistence on 'driving' the doctor to find the sick girl on that snowy Christmas Eve was an artfully disguised invitation for the widower doctor to visit his wife's grave to ask her pardon. Chito and his ex-fiancée-now-partner also reconcile to arrive at the show's sentimental conclusion. But the mood is less upbeat than autumnal (reinforced by Jennifer Tipton's faint illumination for much of the ninety minutes). Gabriadze's message seems to be that only death can bring true peace. .

Battle of Stalingrad at Lincoln Center Festival 2002

Forbidden Christmas or the Doctor and the Patient
Written and Directed by Rezo Gabriadze
with Mikhail Baryshnikov, Jon DeVries, Luis Perez, Pilar Witherspoon, Yvonne Woods
Scenic Design, Sound Collage, Costume Design: Rezo Gabriadze
Lighting Design: Jennifer Tipton
Script Translators: Ryan McKittrick, Julia Smeliansky
Choreographer: Luis Perez
Sound Design: David Meschter
Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes with no intermission
John Jay Theater, Amsterdam Avenue between 58th and 59th Streets; Telephone (212) 875-5766
10 performances between July 9th and July 17th, 2004; $60. Reviewed by David Lipfert based on 7/11/04 performance
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