Adam Underwood’s Tyumen, Then, (Too-MAIN, if you were wondering) an extremely black comedy, is a study in effective contrasts. It features one of the most amoral, self-preserving characters you will ever meet, who is driven to the brink of insanity by even the thought of selflessness. It’s grotesque and chilling. But then, it also has an ice-skating-obsessed Vladimir Lenin rising from his coffin in a “Kiss the Cook” apron, so you be the judge.
Two Russian soldiers stand in a boxcar, guarding what nobody will tell them but what they suspect is the body of Lenin, being spirited from Russia in order to avoid possible desecration by the Nazis. One, Dimitri (Lyon Smith) is an annoying but completely guileless individual, particularly for a soldier during WWII – you wonder if it’s his first day on the job, marvel at his ability to keep up constant inane chatter, but eventually melt for his continued naïve optimism. He is a kind of winningly annoying Dr. Pangloss, who, though met with constant pain, continues to believe in the best of all possible worlds. His compatriot, Ivan (Kevin MacDonald) is his polar opposite and is having none of his friendly overtures. When the boxcar screeches to a halt with no hint of whether or not it will ever continue its journey, survival mode kicks in for Ivan and Dimitri is a willing dupe.
Meanwhile, we wonder, is it Lenin, on ice, or Lenin On Ice? The charismatically loony Adam Lazarus is clearly having the time of his life playing Lenin post-mortem with increasingly whimsical props. At first he can only be seen by Dimitri, as he complains of memory-inflicted head pain, asks to be taken skating and spouts prophecy, but he intrudes more and more into the world as things go off the rails (metaphorically, that is).
The play is a (sickening) riot. With its seemingly absurd and light tone, the eventual violence comes as both an inevitability and a shock. However, once the horror threshold is breached, though one hopes for the best, one knows there is no turning back and all bets are off. This certainly makes things more exciting; the show manages to create enormous suspense in its willingness to irrevocably harm its characters. The dialogue (at times, monologue) is in turn hilarious and interminable, a sort of combination between Questions and Who’s On First? Though this seemingly-endless back-and-forth interaction and the stopped boxcar initially give the play the impression of a Russian train-based version of Godot, things change: the characters do move – and cut, and strangle, and skate.