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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

Wednesday, Nov. 26


AmChams Public Relations Committee will meet this afternoon in their office in the New St. Isaacs Office Center on Ulitsa Yakubovicha at 4 p.m.


Zoosphere, an international exhibition focusing on the pet industry, opens today at the Lenexpo convention center on Vasilievsky Island. Not only will items such as toys, terrariums and accessories be available for purchase, but animal enthusiasts can also learn about the latest in veterinary medicine and behavioral training thanks to the conferences and presentations that are part of the event.



Thursday, Nov. 27


The Customs and Transportation Committee for AmCham meets this morning at 9 a.m. in their office on Ulitsa Yakubovicha.


Tickets are still available for local KHL team SKA St. Petersburgs showdown with Siberian club Metallurg Novokuznetsk tonight at 7:30 p.m. in the Ice Palace outside the Prospekt Bolshevikov metro station. Tickets can be purchased on the teams website, at the arena box office or in their merchandise store on Nevsky Prospekt.


Celebrate one of Russian literatures most tragic figures during Blok Days, a two-day celebration of the 134th anniversary of the poets birthday. The tragic tenors work, which led to writer Maxim Gorky to hail him as Russias greatest living poet before his death in 1921, will be recited and meetings and discussions about his contributions to the Silver Age of literature in St. Petersburg will be discussed in the confines of his former residence.



Friday, Nov. 28


Join table game aficionados at the British Book Centers Board Game Evening. Held every Friday at 5 p.m., aficionados and amateurs alike can come take part in a variety of different games that test ones intellect and cunning.



Saturday, Nov. 29


Cats, dogs, birds, rodents and reptiles are just some of the things that will walk and crawl at Lenexpo convention center this weekend as part of Zooshow, a two-day exhibition featuring not only mans best friends but a four-legged fashion show, as well as a food fair that will help pet owners find out more about which kibbles are best for their hungry pets.



Sunday, Nov. 30


Remember the 75th anniversary of the beginning of the Russo-Finnish war in 1939 during todays reenactment titled Winter War: How it Was. More than 200 people will take part in recreating the opening salvoes of the battle for the north in Kamenka, a small village situated between Vyborg and St. Petersburg, using authentic equipment and vintage vehicles from the era. The faux battle begins at 2 p.m.



Monday, Dec. 1


Serbia filmmaker Emir Kusturica is the featured guest this evening at the Lensovet Palace of Culture the Petrograd Side. Fans of the director will get the chance to watch his movie Black Cat, White Cat, as well as ask questions about his award-winning filmography. Tickets for the event, which starts at 7 p.m., start at 2,000 rubles ($42.50).



Tuesday, Dec. 2


Today is the final day of Takoy Festival, a three-week program of plays based on the works of Dostoevsky, Remarque and other famed European writers, whose work is transcribed for theatrical performances. Tonights festival finale is Fathers and Sons, a two-act drama staged by the Novosibirsk Academic Drama Theater based on Turgenevs classic about familial relations.



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