To play is natural, to speak honestly: sincere realism of Oleg Efremov

MOSCOW, October 1 – Novosti, Pavel Surkov. If ever an allegorical monument to the Man of the Theater is erected, then he, of course, must have the appearance of Oleg Efremov, an actor and director who could not imagine himself without a stage. For him, it was both a creative laboratory, and a space for the implementation of ideas, and a way of dialogue with the viewer, and, in fact, with life. What is the innovation of the creator of Sovremennik and the star of Soviet cinema, how did he perceive the split of his beloved Moscow Art Theater – in the Novosti material for the 95th anniversary of the master.

First steps and landmarks

His first creative steps at the Central Children’s Theater have already been discussed by a sophisticated audience: the play “Invisible Dimka” has become a legend. It seems to be a fairy tale with an admixture of Soviet pioneer satire, but Efremov immediately gave out an unusual form: the production turned from moralizing into a light and bright musical, to which both adults and children went in crowds.
As the actor himself recalled, for him the main reference point was the great old people of the Moscow Art Theater. All the time he mentally tried on their images, thought that he could learn from each of them.
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The main director of the Moscow Theater Sovremennik, actor Oleg Efremov puts on makeup before going on stage - Novosti, 1920, 09/30/2022
The chief director of the Moscow Sovremennik Theater, actor Oleg Efremov, puts on makeup before going on stage
Despite the fact that the classical approach of the Stanislavsky system was not in favor among young directors in the mid-50s, Efremov, on the contrary, was interested in the possibility of reviving the studio spirit from which the Moscow Art Theater troupe had once arisen. It remained to rally around like-minded people.

Like-minded people

And they were found. The studio, which later called itself “Contemporary”, gained popularity almost instantly, and young artists became idols of the sixties. Evgeny Evstigneev, Igor Kvasha, Galina Volchek, Oleg Tabakov – everyone who was even slightly interested in modern theater spoke about them.
Oleg Nikolaevich Efremov, artistic director, chief director of the Chekhov Moscow Art Theater

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Director and theatrical figure, People's Artist of the USSR Oleg Nikolaevich Efremov

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The building of the Moscow Art Academic Theatre.  A.P. Chekhov under the direction of Oleg Efremov in Kamergersky Lane in Moscow
The building of the Moscow Art Academic Theatre. A.P. Chekhov under the direction of Oleg Efremov in Kamergersky Lane in Moscow.
People's Artist of the USSR, laureate of the State Prizes of the USSR, chief director of the Moscow Art Theater Oleg Yefremov and Honored Artist of the RSFSR, laureate of the State Prize of the USSR Alexander Kalyagin in the dressing room after the performance So let's win!
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50th anniversary of the Moscow Art Theater School.  The rector of the Moscow Art Theater School-Studio Oleg Tabakov and the chief director of the Moscow Art Theater.  A.P.  Chekhov Oleg Efremov

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Oleg Yefremov as Dolokhov in Sergei Bondarchuk's epic film War and Peace
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When they wrote about the performance based on Rozov’s play “Forever Alive” that the performance was wonderful, but it was “just a good Moscow Art Theater”, Efremov took such an assessment as the highest praise. Even if skeptics saw in his work a continuation of the spirit of the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko troupe, this meant that the director hit the target.

The main theater of the 60s

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Soviet and Russian actor, director and theatrical figure, People's Artist of the USSR Oleg Nikolaevich Efremov - Novosti, 1920, 09/30/2022
Soviet and Russian actor, director and theatrical figure, People’s Artist of the USSR Oleg Nikolaevich Efremov
“Sovremennik”, no doubt, was the main Moscow theater of the “thaw” – each performance became an event. Efremov and other actors of the troupe also appeared on the movie screen, sometimes not being afraid to demonstrate frank self-irony. Suffice it to recall, for example, Ryazanov’s film “Beware of the Car”, where Oleg Nikolayevich played the investigator Maxim Podberezovikov, who is in love with the Stanislavsky system, and Evstigneev and Volchek performed excellently in the brightest episodic roles.
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Efremov skillfully managed the theater both creatively and socially. The task of the entire troupe was the revival of the “natural man” on the stage, the struggle against melody and hypocrisy, the embodiment of “spiritual realism”. This was the phenomenon of Efremov – he decided to abandon the vertical management structure: the future performance was created by everyone as equal like-minded people, without any regalia and positions.


In the cinema, he also instantly “laid down” both the viewer and the creative team. It is thanks to the outstanding acting skills. For example, Alexandra Pakhmutova refused to write music for the film “Three Poplars on Plyushchikha” until she saw the already filmed episode with Efremov’s “big pause”, where he simply remains silent and looks into the camera for a long time.
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But at the same time, when he played not contemporaries, but, for example, fairy-tale or literary characters, naturalness and absolute realism still arose in them – whether it was a reveler and a duelist Dolokhov in Sergei Bondarchuk’s “War and Peace” or Dr. Aibolit in “Aibolit-66 Rolan Bykov.


When in 1970 Efremov was called to the Moscow Art Theater, the Sovremennik troupe released their creator with regret, but at the same time with good parting words. Oleg Nikolaevich went to the main dream – to the theater, which he always admired and loved immensely. After that, his life was already inextricably linked with the scene in Kamergersky Lane.
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Artistic director, chief director, director of the Moscow Art Theater.  A. P. Chekhov Oleg Efremov - Novosti, 1920, 09/30/2022
Artistic director, chief director, director of the Moscow Art Theater. A. P. Chekhov Oleg Efremov
But administrative difficulties lay ahead. It was difficult to cope with a huge troupe, the situation inside the gigantic team was heating up. And as a result, at the end of 1987, the Moscow Art Theater split into Efremovsky and Doroninsky. Oleg Nikolayevich himself took this stoically, not reproaching his colleagues with a single word and actually letting half of the team go free swimming.
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Well, he continued to look for modern dramatic material for his own stage. But he never found a writer whose plays would seem to him adequate to the current day and situation. As a result, he continued to make performances according to the classics – Chekhov, Griboyedov, returned Bulgakov to the stage, staging “The Cabal of the Holy Ones” and playing Molière in it.

Merciless time

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Innokenty Smoktunovsky (left) and Oleg Efremov (right) in the old building of the Sovremennik Theater on Mayakovsky Square - Novosti, 1920, 09/30/2022
Innokenty Smoktunovsky (left) and Oleg Efremov (right) in the old building of the Sovremennik Theater on Mayakovsky Square
However, ruthless time took away his comrades-in-arms. Innokenty Smoktunovsky passed away, and Efremov perceived this loss incredibly sharply. He also felt the changes that were taking place in the world around him. And one way or another he brought his reflection to the stage, staging the piercing “Three Sisters”, where he generally removed the image of the house from the finale. And when critics asked the question: where is the house that the characters talk about for almost three hours, where did such a terrible directorial pessimism come from, he answered: “Why pessimism? This is life.”
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The premiere of his last performance – “Cyrano de Bergerac” – Efremov did not have time to see. His last resting place is next to the grave of Stanislavsky at the Novodevichy cemetery. It was impossible to imagine any other neighborhood: the teacher and the student, who were separated by time, turned out to be forever sealed by a single spirit and faith in the eternal power of theatrical art.
Scene from Sasha, hello!  - Novosti, 1920, 09/18/2022
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