SLAVS!, European Repertory Company, at About Face Theatre. Tony Kushner's Angels in America was no fluke, as this play shows: he can seize a turning point and turn history inside out. Depicting disillusioned commissars and an angry proletariat in Russia first in 1985, then seven years later, he creates a relentlessly realistic 85-minute meditation on "longstanding problems of virtue and happiness," as the play's subtitle puts it. Examining the end of communism, he exposes a charade that defied human nature.

In scenes that pit materialist philosophy against raw and unmalleable reality, we meet party leaders stampeded by the march of time, anguished lesbians who make up their ideology as they go along, and a little Siberian girl turned "nuclear mutant" whose muteness indicts a workers' paradise turned radioactive wasteland. Kushner sums up the situation in six stark words: "We have not made kind people."

Yasen Peyankov's thoughtful, thrilling staging is every bit as good as the 1994 Steppenwolf local premiere, featuring performances as fierce or mandarin as Kushner's writing. The fierce work comes from Carolyn Ann Hoerdemann as the outraged mother of the damaged child (Susan Wiltrakis) and Lusia Strus as a doctor who condemns Moscow's indifference. The more defeated characters, exhibiting a Chekhovian melancholy that seeks out work rather than introspection, rage against the dying of the hammer and sickle, none more plaintively than Kirk Anderson as the world's oldest living Bolshevik.

--Lawrence Bommer

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