Russian Theater in Austin, Texas
By John Freedman
"Moscow Now, Here," the headline states in the Austin Chronicle; "The New Russian Drama Festival opens a hotline to the culture of Russia today."
That is a lead-in to a story about what one man, Graham Schmidt, has been up to for two years now, bringing Russian culture, theater and drama to Austin, Texas. This weekend he kicked off the second annual festival with three days of events that were highlighted by the English-language premiere of Maksym Kurochkin's play "The Schooling of Bento Bonchev." It all happened under the umbrella of Breaking String Theater, a producing organization that Schmidt founded in 2007 and named after a line drawn from Anton Chekhov's play "The Cherry Orchard."
(Please note that I translated "The Schooling of Bento Bonchev" and have been a consultant for Breaking String Theater since the first New Russian Drama Festival took place in 2011.)
"Over the last couple of years we have started to find a niche" in Austin, Schmidt told me in the wee hours of Sunday morning following the second performance of "Bento Bonchev." Numerous "prominent people attend and participate" in the activities of the festivals, which have presented the work not only of Kurochkin, but of Olga Mukhina, whose play "Flying" enjoyed its English-language premiere last year.
Schmidt calls his work on "Bento Bonchev" "fantastic," in part because he was able to have Kurochkin on hand for the final dress rehearsal and first performances, which occurred on Friday and Saturday. "It was a dream experience having the playwright in the room," he explained. Kurochkin made several practical suggestions that the director and his cast incorporated in the performance at the last minute.
"Bento Bonchev" is, in Schmidt's description, "a romantic comedy with a twist. Max imagines a world in which love does not exist." The play, he declares, "has a great deal of depth through its lightness and humor." It runs Thursdays through Sundays until March 31 at Austin's iconic Off Center.