Navigating Russian fiscal laws is something akin to traversing the woods in a Brothers Grimm fairy tale.

The theater world may now be at the center of one of Russia’s most profound political scandals. The stakes are high: Can the government and its people coexist? And if not, where is the country heading?

Last week Alexei Malobrodsky, the former managing director of Gogol Center, one of Moscow’s leading theaters, was called to testify in an embezzlement relating to activities at the innovative Seventh Studio in 2012.

Malobrodsky, who was also the general producer of Seventh Studio, entered court on June 21 as a witness but left shortly afterward in handcuffs. He was hauled off to Petrovka 38 where — in violation of Russian law — he was placed in a cell with a repeat offender. Dozhd TV later reported that this cellmate has made disconcerting, if not yet threatening, comments to Malobrodsky. Officially, Malobrodsky was accused of embezzling 2.33 million rubles (approximately $38,700, and considered “large scale” fraud) from the budget of Kirill Serebrennikov’s 2012 production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

In a claim that has already entered Russian theater lore, the prosecutor insisted that “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” never existed. Compelling evidence suggesting the contrary—posters, reports of performances in France, repertory schedules, the production’s nomination for a Golden Mask, etc.— was not admitted by the court.

In ensuing weeks the theater community has worked such words as “Kafkaesque” and “absurd” until they are white hot.

This incident is a continuation of a late May attempt to pin Gogol Center’s prominent artistic director Kirill Serbrennikov with similar charges. Following a flurry of highly publicized interrogations about embezzlement at Seventh Studio (founded by Serebrennikov), a former bookkeeper Nina Maslyayeva was imprisoned, and the Studio’s former general manager Yury Itin was placed under house arrest. …


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