Obituary: Yevgeny Simonov

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The Independent Online
Yevgeny Rubenovich Simonov, stage director: born Moscow 21 June 1925; died Moscow 3 August 1994.

YEVGENY SIMONOV was one of a small group of stage directors who dominated the theatre scene in Moscow over the past three decades.

He was born in Moscow in 1925, the son of a leading actor-director, Ruben Simonov. In the autumn of 1945 Yevgeny became a student at the Shchukin theatre school in Moscow, attached to the Yevgeny Vakhtangov Theatre, where his father was a professor. He graduated in 1947 and began his long theatrical career first teaching at his old school and simultaneously working as assistant and then director at the theatre.

One of his first productions was Filumena Marturano by the Italian dramatist Eduardo de Filippo in 1956. But his real breakthrough came with the 1959 production of The Irkutsk Story, by the Soviet playwright Alexei Arbuzov. The play was widely compared with Thornton Wilder's Our Town (1938). It created a sensation with theatre audiences, was discussed in the Soviet media, and several members of the Politburo attended performances. The production toured the Soviet Union with great success, and revealed to playgoers a new and talented writer who for many years had worked in complete obscurity.

From 1962 Simonov was for six years chief artistic director of the Maly Theatre in Moscow, a leading classical company where he staged Mikhail Lermontov's Masquerade, and, in 1963, Wit Works Woe by Alexander Griboyedov, a classical play dating from 1823. In 1964 he produced Maxim Gorky's Dachniki ('Country-house Owners'). In 1967 he staged, by order of the Ministry of Culture, a production at the Maly based on the life of the American Communist journalist John Reed who had been buried in the Kremlin Wall in 1920.

In 1968, following his father's death, Simonov took over the Yevgeny Vakhtangov Theatre. His father had run the theatre for 29 years and Yevgeny Simonov was its chief artistic director for the next 20. There he staged two classical productions - Gorky's Children of the Sun, and Alexander Ostrovzky's Na Vayakogo Mudretsa Dovolno Prostoty ('No Wiseacre As Smart As He May Think'), both in 1968. His production of Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra in 1971 was very well received. But Brezhnev's cultural authorities demanded political plays, too, and in 1970 Simonov was forced to include in the theatre's repertoire a play about Lenin, Man with a Rifle. But despite using one of the theatre's best actors, Mikhail Ulianov, in the principal part, the play attracted small audiences, and the Ministry of Culture organised the distribution of free tickets to students and workers through local party committees.

During Gorbachev's perestroika the funding of theatres collapsed. New young people took over with the idea of staging commercial Western plays, by playwrights such as Agatha Christie, or modern Russian dramatists in whose plays naked actors performed to loud pop music. These changes were not to Simonov's liking and he left the theatre feeling miserable and even bitter. His last post was as artistic director of a tiny 'People's Friendship' theatre, more of a local club than a theatre.

(Photograph omitted)