Published at the Fusebox Festival blog:
The New Russian Drama Festival, or Writing Plays No One Will Be Able To Read in 20 Years
Wednesday, February 29th, 2012
As Fusebox approaches we are asking artists from across disciplines to submit thoughts and perspectives on the unique worlds they work with. In our first installment Graham Schmidt of Breaking String Theater Co., offers a splendid essay on their work with the New Russian Drama Festival.
This past December, Moscow Times theater critic John Freedman predicted that life would “return to something resembling normalcy at some point.” Protests against fraudulent parliamentary elections had engulfed the city; Muscovites gathered repeatedly by the tens of thousands to demand free and fair elections, and an end to Vladimir Putin’s rule as a de facto dictator.
With the presidential elections looming and the protests ongoing, normal is nowhere in sight for Moscow’s theater community. This is the backdrop against which Breaking String Theater Co., in association with Fusebox Festival and the Center for International Theatre Development, welcome two of Moscow’s most important theater professionals to Austin for a weekend of conversations, play readings and the American premiere of one of Moscow’s most popular plays from the 2011-2012 theater season: Maksym Kurochkin’s The Schooling of Bento Bonchev.
Finished in 2010, Bento is not a political play by any stretch, but a love story with a twist. The setting is the near future on a typical American college campus – recognizable in every sense, except that the people in this world have decided that love is a superstition, and thanks to advances in technology, sex is obsolete. Max’s play dashes through the life of Bento Bonchev, a graduate student in the history of human sexuality who renounces his mentor-professor and rejects love, while finding himself drawn to a young woman named Sandy throughout his life.
Freedman’s translation of Bento is his fifth Kurochkin play. On what drew him to the work initially, he notes, “Max’s work has always attracted me with its intelligence and its inventiveness. He may be the only writer I know of who at least comes close to working in a new genre each time he writes a play. And he’s written well over two dozen.”
Indeed, Kurochkin’s play partakes of the same mind-spinning mixture of fantasy and reality, antiquity and modernity, and comic sensibility that he’s become known for. Plays like the 2001 Kitchen – a commentary on the enduring influence of history, set simultaneously in the world of Norse mythology and the kitchen of a tourist-attraction in Russia’s hinterlands, and 2003’s Vodka, Fucking and Television, which tracks a man’s mid-life crisis and break with his constant companions (the play’s title roles), garnered Kurochkin critical acclaim and a reputation for challenging, innovative plays, and catapulted him to the fore of what became known as the New Drama movement in Russia.