American theatricals

American theatricals

A conference brings works by contemporary American playwrights to the city’s stages this week.

Published: November 23, 2011 (Issue # 1684)


The conference’s organizers hope it will acquaint local drama enthusiasts with modern American theater.

The repertoires of St. Petersburg drama theaters inevitably include works by a number of American playwrights, including Tennessee Williams, Eugene O’Neill, Arthur Miller and Edward Albee. But it is 50 years or more since their plays were written.

This week, the St. Petersburg Theater Academy will attempt to refresh the city’s theater repertoires with the help of modern American playwrights and dramaturges, as the city hosts a theater conference titled “Modern American Plays and Discoveries.”

The academy has also organized a conference in order to introduce new American plays and playwrights to the Russian public, at the initiative of Professor Irina Tsimbal.

As Tsimbal explains, there were sound reasons for the popularity of American plays in Russia from the 1920s through the 1960s. This was the classical age of American drama. Russian stage directors were drawn to the parables embedded in American plays, and to their multi-layered material. The almost brutal self-criticism that ran through many major works also caught their eye. American plays were translated, published and staged throughout the U.S.S.R.

Immediately following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Russian theater world was too preoccupied by the unfolding social and political drama to focus on what was happening in the international theater world. Then, toward the end of the 1990s, American plays became less accessible to Russia due to new copyright laws.

The Theater Academy took note of this void, and decided to act. As soon as the idea of a conference dedicated to contemporary American drama caught on, American playwrights, critics and theater historians showed keen interest in participating.

“We don’t want the conference to become another scientific discourse,” said Tsimbal. “We hope it will be a practical tool to help acquaint us with modern American theater. That is why we are very glad that young American playwrights have shown such a great desire to participate. Naturally, they hope their plays can be staged in Russia. We hope so too,” she added.

There will be two working languages at the conference: English and Russian. Every report will have a written summary in the other language.

The organizers received several dozen American plays, and some have been chosen for reading by young St. Petersburg actors. In order to accommodate far more than those Americans able to attend the conference in person, a special video link will be provided by the American Consulate General — the conference’s co-organizer — on Nov. 25 to include others back in the U.S.

Among the seven plays selected for “concert” performance is Nilo Cruz’s “Ann in the Tropics.” The play is centered around Leo Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina.” Somewhere in the tropics, women working at a tobacco factory listen to readings from Tolstoy’s novel while imagining themselves to be characters from the novel — Anna, Karenin and Vronsky. Here the playwright has combined Latin, Russian and American cultures.

Another young playwright, Ann Baker, is coming to St. Petersburg to take part in the discussions with her play, “The Aliens.” The author follows Jack Kerouac’s traditions of drugs, alcohol and sex. She writes about eternity and people who can’t seem to find their place and fit in among people, underlining the fact that the “American dream” is an illusion.

In addition to these performances, the audience will be able to attend talks by speakers such as Suzan Flakes from Los Angeles, who will be talking about the birth of American drama. She argues that it originated from European masters such as Russia’s own Anton Chekhov and Norway’s Henrik Ibsen.

Another program highlight looks set to be a talk by Professor Yury Stulov from Minsk on the staging of American plays in Belarus at the end of the 20th century.

On the second day of the conference, the St. Petersburg Theater Academy will perform “A Streetcar Named Desire” at the Na Mokhovoi theater at 34 Mokhovaya Ulitsa, Hall 45 at 7.30 p.m. Entrance is free.

The conference is sponsored by the U.S. embassy in Moscow and the U.S. Consulate General in St. Petersburg.

The “Modern American Plays and Discoveries” conference runs from Nov. 25 through Nov. 27 and all events are free. The main events will be held at the On.Teatr theater, 18 Zhukovskogo Ulitsa. Tel. 929 66 92. M. Vladimirskaya, Mayakovskaya.

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