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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Yury Klavdiyev, an 'Atom-Smashing' Playwright

When an advisory board consisting of four Russians and yours truly met two years ago to discuss what writers should be included in a yearlong season of contemporary Russian drama at Towson University in 2009-2010, a few names quickly bubbled to the top of the list — Olga Mukhina, Maksym Kurochkin and Yury Klavdiyev.

Mukhina and Kurochkin were no surprise. By the relatively early hours of the 2000s, both writers had made major and lasting contributions to contemporary Russian theater.

Klavdiyev, on the other hand, had only appeared on the horizon shortly before that 2007 meeting. His plays first made it to Moscow in 2006. Still, everyone already understood that no discussion of new Russian drama could be legitimate without the inclusion of Klavdiyev.

Every bit as interesting is the fact that Klavdiyev’s work made such an impression on the writers, directors and actors at Towson. The final list of 10 plays by six writers comprising the "New Russian Drama: Voices in a Shifting Age" project includes three by Klavdiyev.

One, “The Polar Truth,” was selected by graduate student Joseph Ritsch as a directed student workshop. Two more were selected by playwright and faculty member David M. White. He was intent on directing “I Am a Machine Gunner” for his own Generous Company and on translating “Martial Arts” for one of the key events in the Towson Russian season.

I had the privilege of being present when David’s love affair with Klavdiyev began.

It happened in May 2008 in Bratislava, Slovakia, where I was curating the Russia Focus program of the New Drama Festival, hosted and organized by the Theater Institute of the Slovak Republic. David was there as a guest of Philip Arnoult’s Center for International Theatre Development, ) an organization that for decades has been a vital conduit between American theater practitioners and the entire world.

David attended a touring performance of “I Am the Machine Gunner” as directed by Irina Keruchenko for the Playwright and Director Center of Moscow. Mind you now, the play was performed in Russian with translation provided into Slovak. David speaks neither of those languages. And yet, when we walked out of the theater that night, he was, I think it is safe to say, ecstatic.

We headed off into the night, walking up Obchodna Street towards our hotel some half-hour away, and it didn’t take David more than ten minutes to say, “If someone would translate that play into English, I would direct it.” It didn’t take me more than the bat of an eyelash to say, “How soon do you want it?”

“As soon as possible,” David said. “I know just the actor for it.”

Within two weeks I sent David my first draft of the translation and he set to work on it with his actor, James Knight. Their first rehearsals took place at the Wordbridge Playwrights Lab in June 2008, less than one month later.

It never occurred to me to ask how David could be so sure that he loved the play when he couldn’t possibly have understood a word of it that first time. Enthusiasm like that is contagious and utterly convincing.

I was in Towson, Maryland, last week to attend, among many other events, the opening of Olga Mukhina’s “Tanya-Tanya,” three workshop performances of “I Am the Machine Gunner” and a reading of David’s translation of “Martial Arts.” You can read more about that here

After a run-through of “I Am the Machine Gunner,” a tale that merges the voices of a young man involved in gang warfare and his grandfather who fought in World War II, I asked David to talk to me a little about Klavdiyev. Some of his comments are priceless, such as his description of the writer as an “atom-smashing playwright who defies genre.”

Klavdiyev’s mix of violence and tenderness, vulgarity and poetry, is now clearly beginning to make a mark in English. His plays are not for the squeamish. But if you appreciate theater that puts you on the spot, Klavdiyev is ready to do that.

“We’ve started not asking if spectators want to come to the theater,” David said, “but rather, can they handle it?”

See what else David had to say about Klavdiyev by clicking on the picture below.