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New Russian Plays in English

Published: November 6, 2013 (Issue # 1785)



  • Actors perform in a scene from Yelena Greminas One Hour and Eighteen Minutes, directed by Noah Birksted-Breen.
    Photo: Helen Warner / Sputnik

Noah Birksted-Breens anthology of contemporary Russian drama is the first to be published in English.

Noah Birksted-Breen founded the Sputnik Theatre in London in 2005 with the purpose of championing Russian drama and theater in the U.K. Hes been doing that ever since. In the ensuing years he has presented four full-fledged productions of contemporary Russian plays all directed and translated by him. He periodically presents staged readings of new and unusual works, such as the reading of jailed oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovskys prison diaries he presented on Oct. 23.

In 2010, Breen mounted a festival of readings that introduced London audiences to plays by Yaroslava Pulinovich, Natalya Kolyada, Maxim Kurochkin and Vladimir Zuyev. In 2012, he translated and directed a production of Yelena Greminas One Hour Eighteen Minutes, about the prelude and aftermath to the death in a prison cell of Russian muckraker Sergei Magnitsky. Now, in 2013, he has published New Russian Plays, a collection of five plays he has worked with in the first eight years of his theaters life.

The book contains the descriptive phrase Five contemporary playwrights who have shaped playwriting in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. Indeed, even in such a small number of plays, Birksted-Breen was able to provide a striking picture of the diversity that is Russian drama today.

Natalya Kolyada (often spelled Kaliada since she is from Belarus) is a founding member of the famous Belarus Free Theater which, due to the repressive politics of that small nation, is now in residence in England. Birksted-Breen presented her play Dreams at his festival in 2010. It is a piece for six females, aged 30 to 60, and explores the lives of women who exist on one side or the other of the norm.

Techniques of Breathing in an Air-Locked Space by Natalya Moshina, a writer from the city of Ufa, was one of Birksted-Breens earliest projects. It was his second full production in 2006. By then it had achieved some renown in Russian theater circles by way of a production done by the Free Theater in Minsk. It is an episodic piece that observes various people whose lives are closing in on them, such as an actress fed up with her profession, or a young woman struggling with cancer.

Vladimir Zuyev is from Yekaterinburg, one of the mighty army of playwrights who have studied with Nikolai Kolyada (no relation to Natalya) at the Yekaterinburg State Theater Institute. His play Mums, as translated by Birksted-Breen, was first published in 2006. It involves a group of people living on the edge of despair, as one character puts it, in and around a dingy basement during a war.

Two writers in the collection Yury Klavdiyev and Maxim Kurochkin are arguably the two most powerful playwrights working in Russian theater today. The former is from the southern Russian city of Tolyatti and emerged as a force to be reckoned with in the mid-2000s. The latter is a native of Kiev, Ukraine, but has made Moscow and the Russian language his home for the last 15 years.

Kurochkins Tityus the Irreproachable is a marvelous example of this writers effervescent, exuberant, absolutely irrepressible imagination. It is a vividly-colored dramatic canvas that uses a sci-fi setting (a spaceship in the distant future) to grapple with contemporary problems that have existed for thousands of years. Characters with names like Administrator-Killer, Architecton, Pork, Blob and Suburbius are engaged in a post-human era battle to forestall the future. You can imagine how well that comes off.

Klavdiyevs The Slow Sword, which opens the collection, is a quintessential work by this writer violent, smart and unforgiving. It tells the story of a young professional dropping out of his successful life to see how and why people live. He encounters drug addicts, thieves, rapists and victims. It is a harsh, nasty, powerful play that walks all over attempts to understand the world of these characters through a liberal or conservative philosophy. The play leads off Birksted-Breens New Russian Plays anthology, the first such collection in the English language.





 


ALL ABOUT TOWN

Friday, Aug. 29


Park Pobedy will feature the sights and sounds of the world outside of Russia during the Open Art International Festival today. Taste foreign cuisine, learn how to make tea like the Chinese or relax in a hammock during the free event. Although entrance is free, you must register beforehand if you wish to attend.



Saturday, Aug. 30


Break out the tweed and channel your inner Englishman during the English Hunt Picnic this afternoon organized by the Bagmut stables from Krasny Bor in the Leningrad Oblast. Equestrian stunts, English archery and classic hunting fashion will all be available to visitors hoping to live like the characters in Downton Abbey if only for a day. Tickets for the event cost 7,900 rubles ($219.40).


Bookworms will have their chance to swap out well-read classics for something new for their bookshelves at Knigovorot, a free book exchange that will be held in the Yusupov Garden on Sadovaya Ulitsa today. Come for the chance to get a new book or take the opportunity to discuss the literary merits of your favorite authors with fellow fans.



Sunday, Aug. 31


The Neva Delta International Blues Festival wraps up this afternoon on Vasilevsky Island with a concert featuring not only some of Russias best blues bands but international stars as well. Admission is free for all three days of the festival, which begins on Aug. 29, and the shows starting at 5 p.m. each day.



Monday, Sept. 1


Today marks the beginning of Lermontov-Fest, a fall festival celebrating the life of one of Russias most remarkable poets who, in a fate eerily similar to Pushkins, was killed in a duel at the age of 26. Organized by the Lermontov Library System, the next several months will see art exhibitions, concerts and public lectures focusing on the Lermontovs short yet prolific career. Check the Lermontov Library Systems website for more details.



Tuesday, Sept. 2


Join expats and practice your Russian during the Russian Clubs weekly meetings every Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. The club is free to participate in although you need to be a registered member of Couchsurfing.



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