Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Lin's play, fiction based on fact, examines how ambitious Russian capitalists gobbled up money and gained power after the fall of the Soviet Union. Mikhail Khodorkovsky (Max Woertendyke) becomes the richest of them all but then decides to become a philanthropist, helping the Russians who didn't have the resources to rise, and making friends in the U.S. Specifically, he wants to sell the oil company he owns to American interests. That's when an ambitious young KGB agent named Vladimir Putin (Christopher Geary) decides to strike back.
Director Jackson Gay does well with the actors, but the total effect often gets lost in a cluttered, gimmicky production design. Woertendyke shows Khodorkovsky's priorities shifting as he ages: first a hustler trying to make a score, becoming complicit (or at least willfully ignorant) of abuses of power, then deciding that giving back to the Russian people is the best way to go. In contrast, Geary's Putin is generally petulant, amassing power as a means toward gaining respect, and he may be dangerous but he's also tiresome.
Brontë England-Nelson ably shifts from struggling student to elegance as Inna, the woman Khodorkovsky loves, but her motives remain vague: in their first scene together, she's reluctant and he's pressuring her. Elliott Bales makes an impact as a politician who becomes collateral damage, while Candy Buckley (back at Arena for the first time since All the King's Men in 1987) provides sharp comic relief as a White House official.
Regarding the appearance of the production: Misha Kachman's scenic design has multiple levels, sliding walls, and flat expanses for the display of Nicholas Hussong's projections of news footage and shadowy figures. Masha Tsimring's lighting design also becomes distracting. Jessica Ford's costumes are dead-on as Soviet conformism shifts into Russian excess.