by Dr. David Glen Robinson
The third annual New Russian Drama Festival in Austin, organized and hosted by Breaking String Theatre Company and its artistic director, Graham Schmidt, offered a full weekend of theatre to Austin, with impressive guests, panel discussions, staged readings, a musical program and full stage presentations of two world-class one-act plays by the preeminent contemporary playwright Yury Klavdiev. My first and
last impressions are that Austin is fortunate indeed simply to have access to such theatrical and artistic enrichment in the course a single weekend.
The core of the festival is the full staging of the Klavdiev works I Am the Machine Gunner and Martial Arts. They are well-matched and exemplary of new Russian drama. At one of the talkback sessions, an audience member asked translator John Freedman what characterized contemporary Russian drama. Freedman’s an intellectual, an observer, and a practitioner who could have offered a long-winded literary exposition, but his initial response was terse and to the point: “Violence.” Since the fall of the U.S.S.R. Russian playwrights have focused not on politics but on the dark side of capitalism and its new avenues for crime. Panel discussants detailed diametrically opposed political views of producing playwrights, usually by categorizing them as pro or con on President Putin’s policies.
I am the Machine Gunner led the evening’s program. Actor Joey Hood performed it as a solo, although the later panel discussion informed us that elsewhere it had been staged for two actors and even nine actors. In Austin it was Hood alone, shifting throughout the forty-minute performance between two characters: a contemporary street criminal and his grandfather, a combat veteran of World War II. I Am the Machine Gunner was more than just overwhelming.
Translator Freedman told us that among contemporary Russian playwrights, Klavdiev is foremost for taking an “in your face” approach. Blood, death and the f-word filled the air, nowhere more climactically than when Hood stood far downstage center and opened the mind of the machine gunner in a delirium of killing the leaves on the trees, shooting down the moon, filling the blue sky with black bullet holes and finally, finally ending the pain by destroying the earth.
Read more at AustinLiveTheatre.com . . . .