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The Nightmare of Being a Russian-Language Ukrainian Playwright

Published: July 21, 2014 (Issue # 1820)



  • Natalya Vorozhbyt, a Russian-speaking Ukrainian playwright, attending an event at Teatr.doc in 2012.
    Photo: John Freedman / SPT

  • Playwright Maxim Kurochkin speaking at an anti-war rally in Moscow.
    Photo: John Freedman / SPT

"We spoke Russian in our family," Kurochkin says. "But mother studied Ukrainian fine arts. And father studied Ukrainian ethnography. I am very pleased with my parents. Like true Kiev natives they freely switched back and forth between Russian and Ukrainian when it was necessary. I studied in a Ukrainian school. And when I began reading a lot, I often could not remember which of the two languages the books were written in."

According to Vorozhbyt, there was in the 1980s a concerted push to make Russian language dominant in Ukraine.

"I don't know what to do about it, John. It is a nightmare and it is hell. And something in me has been broken irreparably."

Thus responded Maksym Kurochkin, a Ukrainian Russian-language playwright, to my question about what he is experiencing these days. As his comments starkly suggest, recent months have not been good for anyone nurturing blood or cultural ties to Russia and Ukraine.

The winter standoff on Kiev's Maidan Square pushed the so-called brotherly nations of Russia and Ukraine apart even before the shooting started. The annexation of Crimea by Russia in March exacerbated the situation. The downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 on Thursday over eastern Ukraine made a dire state of affairs even worse.

In the theater world, old friends have become alienated while colleagues have taken up positions on opposite sides of the barricades, figuratively and literally.

But what do you do when that battle rages inside of you? What if, like Kurochkin or Natalya Vorozhbyt, another well-known Russian-language, Ukrainian playwright, you straddle the increasingly burned-out ground between Russian and Ukrainian culture?

Kurochkin and Vorozhbyt were born in Kiev, products of a multinational culture, and both became leaders in a remarkable revival of Russian drama since the year 2000. Kurochkin had three new plays open last season, one at Teatr.doc, another at the Meyerhold Center and a third at Breaking String Theater in Austin, Texas. Vorozhbyt's latest play was "Maidan: Voices of the Uprising" at the Royal Court Theater in London in May.

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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Friday, Jan. 30 through Wednesday, Feb. 4



A retrospective of the films of Roman Polanski starts today at Loft-Project Etagi, 74 Ligovsky Prospekt, with a screening of ‘Repulsion’ at 7 p.m. and ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ at 9:15 p.m. The series runs through Feb. 4 and will include Polanski's eminently creepy ‘The Tenant,’ the cult comedy ‘The Fearless Vampire Killers’ and ‘Cul-de-sac’ among others. Tickets are 150-200 rubles and the complete schedule is available at www.vk.com/artpokaz/



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