RUBEN NIKOLAEVICH SIMONOV — the theatre’s Principal Director (1939-1968)

In 1939 Ruben Nikolaevich Simonov was appointed the Principal Director of the theatre. For many years after Vakhtangov’s death he had worked together and on par with Boris Evgenievich Zakhava. Now the time of joint leadership was over. The new leader’s personality greately shaped the theatre’s future.

The Theatre’s first production of 1939-40 was Gogol’s « The Government Inspector » staged by Zakhava with the participation of A. Remizova. The part of the District Police Inspector was rehearsed by Boris Shchukin, but before the dress rehersal on October 7 Schukin died. That was the hardest loss of the theatre after Vakhtangov’s death.

In 1939 the theatre undertook the production of the tragedy in verse «Field-Marshal Kutuzov» by V. Solovyov. N. Okhlopkov was invited as a production director. The wise ironical Kutuzov played by M. Derzhavin was really good. A. Goryunov, who played Napoleon, was noted for striking similarity in appearance with the French emperor.

The last pre-war production was Lermontov’s « Masquerade»-it premiered almost the day before the war broke out-June 21, 1941 (staged by A.Tutyshkin).

During one of the first bombings the theatre’s building was hit by a bomb. One of the theatre’s best actors-Vasily Kuza was among those killed. The building was badly damaged, a lot of scenery was destroyed. It was decided to evacuate the Vakhtangov Theatre’s company to Omsk.

On October 14, having packed in a hurry for 24-hours, the company headed for the east. They also took senior students of the Shchukin Theatrical School with them, having included their names into official documents as members of actors’ families. But there was not enough time to inform all actors of the departure-N. Plotnikov had to get to Omsk by himself. Glazunov (his real name was Glaznek, he was considered German, though he was Latvian), who had not managed to leave with the theatre was soon arrested and accused of awaiting the Germans.

The time in Omsk remained in the Vakhtangov Theatre’s history as one of the brightest periods of its «creative biography». From November 1941 to August 1943 the stage of the Omsk Theatre accomodated three performances played by the Omsk Theatre’s company and four performances played by the company of the Moscow Theatre named after Evgeny Vakhtangov a week. This fact laid the foundation for a long-lasting friendship between the two theatres.

It was in Omsk that Alexey Dikiy, former actor and stage director of Mkhat-2 (the Moscow Art Theatre), arrested in 1937, joined the company. After his return from exile he was invited to join the theatre’s company by Ruben Simonov and by February he was already engaged in «Oleko Dundich » by A.Rzheshevsky and M. Kats. The premiere of «Oleko Dundich» took place on the 22nd of February, 1942.

The group of actors of the Vakhtangov Theatre headed by A. Orochko, A. Remizova and A. Gabovich had gone to the front before the theatre’s first premiere in Omsk. Among the actors of that group there were I.Solovyov, V. Vasilieva, A.Grave, A.Kotrelev, I. Spektor, T. Blazhina, A. Danilovich, V. Dancheva, A. Lebedev. The front-line «branch»of the theatre reached Berlin with the active army and did not return to Moscow until June 1945.

The show is on...

After «Dundich» Dikiy launched the permiere of the play «Russian People» by Konstantin Simonov with E. Korovina and A. Abrikosov starring to commemorate the first year of the war.

On November 6 «Front» by A. Korneichuk premiered. The play about the war was needed both by the theatre and the audience. The army was retreating, so, everybody awaited a performance that would raise the fighting spirit.

N. Okhlopkov conducted rehearsals of «Cyrano de Bergerac» by E. Rostan. Its premiere was shown on the 20th of November. And again the marvellous couple : Simonov and Mansurova were the stars of it.

On the 19th of November, 1942 the Soviet troops attacked the enemy at Stalingrad. The horror of endless defeat was over. The strain of the early years of the war which made the people stuck together to support each other releaved.

Young actors of the Vakhtangov Theatre rehearsed joyous comedies : first « The Servant of Two Masters » by K. Goldoni staged by A. Tutyshkin and then the musical « The Blue Scarf » by V. Kataev staged by Sidorkin were launched in spring of 1943.

Pre-war and post-war years replenished the Vakhtangov Theatre’s company with new wonderful actors : L. Tselikovskaya, L.Pashkova, N. Gritsenko, A. Kazanskaya, Y. Lyubimov, V.Osenev, V. Schlesinger, V Etush, G. Zhukovskaya, E. Izmailova, V. Dugin, A. Grave, E.Korovina, E. Fedorov.

After the Battle of Kursk in summer it became clear that it was time to return to Moscow.

The first post-war production was the tragedy in verse « The Great Tzar » by V. Solovyov staged by B. Zakhava, scenery by V. Favorsky.

The season of 1945/46 was closed with the most unexpected production in the Vakhtangov Theatre’s repertoire-Sophocles’ «Electra» staged by E. Gardt, scenery by architect G.Golts and famous sculptor V. Mukhina.

In August 1946 the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks) issued the Decree «On the Journals «Zvezda» and «Leningrad» which condemned «the spirit of servility towards the modern western culture». Then it was followed by the Decree «On the Repertoire of the Drama Theatres and Measures for Its Improvement». Now theatres were obliged to release at least two or three «new performances of high ideological and artistic quality on modern Soviet topics» yearly which would, in fact, ban the lyric and comic repertoire loved by the Vakhtangov Theatre’s company.
In the atmosphere of an empty and meaningless repertoire, dulling theatrical mind and loosening the discipline of actors, a heavy about realistic profoundness of Boris Zakhava’s staging produced an air of a serious work about the theatre. His version of The Red Army (Molodaja Gvardia) Vakhtangov Theatre produced in 1948 after a monumental Okhlopkov’s version.
The most famous « anticapitalistic » version of the theatre has become The plot of the doomed by N. Vitra about the strugle with the nazi’s plot in a fictional european state. It’s surprising but these « supressed » years have brought to the Vakhtangov Theatre a real success – the melodrama The White-Haired Girl byYan Jinxuan and Din Ni. Sergei Gerasimov directed the production of a modern legend at the theatre (during the times of anti Japaneese war of China). The work was exquisit, almost strict. The decorations were very delicately styled by Ryndin.
Back in 1951 they resumed, Yegor Bulychov which came down from billboards after the death of Shchukin. Then Zakhava introduced Sergei Lukyanov for the leading role. And the whole play, with each episode, as in former years, was well done, with many of the same performers: E. Alexeeva, D. Andreeva, N. Rusinova, V. Koltsov and beautiful new Shura - a naughty, cheeky, intelligent G. Pashkova. The play was alive and great.
1954 began with the reconstruction of Before Sunset which was not on after Glazunov's arrest. Now Michael Astangov was in the center of A. Remizova play.
That same year,by the November holidays, Ruben Simonov restored The Man With a Gun. Lenin was now portrayed by Plotnikov.
The same year, in the spring of 1954, came out probably not the greatest, but perhaps the happiest of theater productions in recent years: young Eugene Simon, son of the director,put up a fairy tale by S. Marshak, He who fears difficulties won’t see happines.
This was the third play of Simonov junior. Arriving at the theater, he brought with him his peers and after his first play - Summer Day (1950), Shakespeare's Two Gentlemen of Verona in 1952 he brought on the scene all the young people of the theater : U.Lyubimova and N Timofeeva, A. Gunchenko and A. Parfanyak, W. Etush and M. Grekov.

Perhaps, in the fifties Vakhtangov’s troupe was the strongest in Moscow. It was formed only from their own college graduates - the best in the capital.
Since the late forties to early sixties, one by one from the school into the troupe came all the young actors that formed the elite, which later was named by the analogy with the second generation of the Moscow Art Theater - The second generation of Vakhtangov Theater. In 1948 Yevgeny Simonov came, the next year - his classmate Yuri Borisov, in 1950 - M. Ulyanov, in 1952 - Yakovlev, in 1958 - V.Lanovoy, in 1961 - L. Maksakova. W. Etush and M. Grekov who returned from the war were a little older than L. Pashkov and N. Gritsenko who had appeared earlier in the troupe, but they were also attributed to the famous Second generation that flourished with the "Thaw". In those same years came A. Katsynsky, A. Gunchenko, A. Parfanyak, N. Timofeev, M. Dadyko, G. Dunts, G. Abrikosov, E. Dobronravova, N. Nehlopochenko, T. Kopteva ; after them - V. Shalevich, E. Raikina, A. Peterson, J. Volintsev. All of them after the school went through their acting school already at the theater, mostly - in the plays of A.I. Remizova.
Thanks to A. Remizova such names as Dostoevsky and Chekhov came into the repertoire tof the theatre.
In 1958 A.I. Remizova put up one of her best performances - The Idiot (the staging by U.Olesha after the Dostoyevsky’s novel of the same name.) It was a serious, not a superficial reading of Dostoevsky's novel. Prince Myshkin was performed by Nikolai Gritsenko, Nastasya Filipovna - Yuliya Borisova, Rogozhin - Mikhail Ulyanov. The cast also played: L.Tselikovskaya, E.Alekseeva, N.Pajitnov, V.Pokrovsky, A. Dugin, A. Grave.
In 1960, Chekhov was performed- Platonov (The Play Without a Title).
The production of Gorky's Foma Gordeev which R.N. Simonov released in 1956, discovered young Gregory Abrikosov in the part of Foma.
Ruben Simonov loved music so much that in the theater they joked that The Living Corpse in 1962, he made just for gypsy singing: a guitar virtuoso Sorokin came specially for each performance from Leningrad. In The Living Corpse young L.A. Maksakova was very lovely, playing Masha.
December 23, 1956 came the premiere of "Filomena Marturano" Eduardo de Filippo directed by Eugene C. L. Simonov with C.L. Mansurova and R.N. Simonov in the leading roles. The show designer Saryan.
In 1957, Eugene Simon put up his third youth play - The City at the dawn. The city at the dawn in many respects preceded the future famous Irkutsk Story. Young people took the central part in the play: an open and vigorous Kostya Belous (M. Ulyanov), passionate, impulsive, Oksana (L. Pashkova), trusting, helpless, but tough inwardly Venya Altman (Yuri Yakovlev), a funny and touching dreamer Zjablik (M. Grekov played the same role 17 years ago in the Arbuzov studio).
In January 1958 Zahava produces Hamlet starring Michael Astangov.
1959 gave the final chord of "collective" comedy of late forties - The cook by A. Sofronov. The play enjoyed such a sincere and ingenuous sympathy among the audience that Sofronov wrote a sequel, and in two years The married cook again gathered full halls.
By the new, 1960, Eugene Simonov had staged the famous and wonderful story - a play by A. Arbuzov, Irkutsk Story. The author dedicated it to U. Borisova.
The 1960/61 season began with the first night of the comedy The Ladies and Hussars by A.Fredro produced by A. Remizova. This witty musical performance traced back to a vaudevillian tradition of Lev Gurych Sinichkin.

Still in 1962 Evgeny Simonove was offered to head the Maly Theatre, but he did not give up also productions in this theatre. L'Assommoir, a staging of ?mile Zola’s novel (produced in 1965 together with V.Shlezinger) was his real director’s success.

In 1963, by a 100-year-old anniversary of K. S. Stanislavsky and an 80-year-old anniversary of E.B.Vakhtangov P.N.Simonov renewed The Turandot Princess. This time the piece was played not by timid apprentices as once, but by splendid widely recognized actors: Yu. Borisova – a capricious arrogant princess, V.Lanovoy – goodlooker Kalaf, L. Maksakova – passionate Adelma, E.Raikina – naiv Zelima.

In 1965, R.Simonov gave the first night of The Diona, a comedy by Leonid Zorin closed to a political pamphlet by its ganre, and in 1966 – The Konarmia (The Horse Cavalry) based on I.Babel’s stories and V.Mayakovsky’s poems.

During a short, deceitful and dangerous happiness of the 60-s the wonderful actors made a reliable core for the theatre. This period gave two duo-performances that met new times realistically : The Two On the Swings by William Gibson (D. Andreeva’s production) and The Warsaw Melody by Leonid Zorin (the last production by Ruben Simonov).

In the middle of the 60-s the Vakhtangov Theatre again became so popular that it was quite difficult to get a ticket. The spectators loved Remizova’s perfomance (The Millionairess by B.Show) decorated by Akimov, it was played very often during almost 15 years.

By the end of 1968 A.Remizova gave the first night of A. N. Ostrovsky’s comedy Every Man Has a Fool In His Sleeve. It was the last work by Nikolay Akimov, the artist, he even could not manage to see his decoration on the stage. The performance was loved by spectators and was awarded with the State Prize.

One of the most favourite performances being on the repertoire for a long time was Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme by Moli?re – a fun, nice and joyful one – produced by V.Shlezinger.