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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

Thursday, Oct. 30


Dental-Expo St. Petersburg 2014 concludes today at Lenexpo. Welcoming specialists from throughout the federation, the forum is an opportunity for dentists to share tricks of the trade and peruse the most recent innovations in technology and equipment, with over 100 companies hocking their wares at the event.



Friday, Oct. 31


Put your grammar and logical thinking to the test in a fun and friendly environment during the British Book Center’s Board Game Evening starting at 5 p.m. today. The event is free and all are welcome to attend.



Saturday, Nov. 1


The men and women who dedicate their lives to fitness get their chance to compete for the title of best body in Russia at today’s Grand Prix Fitness House PRO, the nation’s premier bodybuilding competition. Not only will men and women be competing for thousands of dollars in prizes and a trip to represent their nation at Mr. Olympia but sporting goods and nutritional supplements will also be available for sale. Learn more about the culture of the Indian subcontinent during Diwali, the annual festival of lights that will be celebrated in St. Petersburg this weekend at the Culture Palace on Tambovskaya Ul. For 100 rubles ($2.40), festival-goers listen to Indian music, try on traditional Indian outfits and sample dishes highlighting the culinary diversity of the billion-plus people in the South Asian superpower.



Sunday, Nov. 2


Check out the latest video and interactive games at the Gaming Festival at the Mayakovsky Library ending today. Meet with the developers of the popular and learn more about their work, or learn how to play one of their creations with the opportunity to ask the creators themselves about the exact rules.



Monday, Nov. 3


Non-athletes can get feed their need for competition without breaking a sweat at the Rock-Paper-Scissors tournament this evening at the Cube Bar at Lomonosova 1. Referees will judge the validity of each matchup award points to winners while the city’s elite fight for the chance to be called the best of the best. Those hoping to play must arrange a team beforehand and pay 200 rubles ($4.80) to enter.



Tuesday, Nov. 4


Attend the premiere of Canadian director Xavier Dolan’s latest film “Mommy” at the Avrora theater this evening. The fifth picture from the 25-year-old, it is the story of an unruly teenager but the most alluring (or unappealing) aspect is the way the film was shot: in a 1:1 format that is more reminiscent of Instagram videos than cinematic art. Tickets cost 400 rubles ($9.60) and snacks and drinks will be available.



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