Suspense grows as Lyubimov's next act unfolds

Rarely do prominent Soviet figures traveling abroad try to play cat and mouse with the KGB. It is an extremely dangerous game. But theatrical director Yuri Lyubimov is in the midst of a series of spectacular maneuvers that are scripted, directed, and orchestrated like one of his own stage productions.

In the latest twist he says he plans to return to Moscow after receiving medical treatment in Milan. He is in Bologna, Italy, to direct Richard Wagner's opera ''Tristan and Isolde'' at the Communal Theater.

To Soviet emigres here, who knew him in Moscow where he is artistic director of the Taganka Theater, everything Lyubimov has done since arriving in Britain several weeks ago is a bold but high-risk drama to win more artistic freedom back in Moscow.

His experiences in recent months would make a striking film or play in themselves. He has often been at odds with censors in the Ministry of Culture, but powerful figures in the Communist Party's Central Committee protected him during the Brezhnev era.

Act I of the current drama began when Brezhnev's successor, Yuri Andropov, either began or endorsed a new crackdown on artistic expression. Lyubimov's last three plays at the Taganka were canceled.

Act II: He has told friends here that while in Moscow he wrote a letter of resignation to Andropov. Receiving no reply, he wrote again when he arrived here to direct a stage version of Dostoyevsky's ''Crime and Punishment.''

Act III: To force a response from the Kremlin, he launched a broadside attack on Soviet censorship and cultural bureaucracy in an interview in the Times of London Sept. 5.

Act IV: When a Soviet Embassy official demanded a retraction and threatened ''punishment,'' Lyubimov turned to the British Foreign Office with a request for physical protection against KGB agents in London.

Act V: He says he wants to return to Moscow. He runs two risks: The KGB may cast his maneuvering in the worst possible light back home to try to discredit him, forcing him to leave the Taganka Theater. Or the Kremlin may strip him of his citizenship. Either way the party will say it has won.

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