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Tanya-Tanya in an adaptation at Towson Studio Theater, Dec. 4 to 12

December 3, 2009

Olga Mukhina, whose play Tanya Tanya runs at Towson University Dec. 4-12, isn’t your average Russian playwright. That is in part because, at least until the early 1990s, there were relatively few practicing Russian playwrights to begin with in a theater culture dominated by adaptations and classics. It’s also because, as a single working mother in her late 30s, she doesn’t quite fit into the template of the Russian writer.

For both those reasons, Mukhina’s Tanya Tanya went largely ignored by Russia’s critical elite when it premiered in Moscow in 1993. But this post-Checkhovian romance—transplanted to post-Soviet Russia—became an instant hit among Moscow’s younger generation. It also helped pave the way for what became known as Russia’s “New Drama” movement, a group of younger Russian playwrights who had one thing in common: a desire to write plays in a culture where, for the most part, the plays (or the novels on which plays were based) had already been written.

For Americans who, after decades of the Cold War, were used to reading about Russian artists as either freedom-loving dissidents or government hacks, these dramas brought a new element to the stage. These were plays, basically, about people growing up, falling in love, or going nuts in a world of massive political, economic, and cultural shifts. In retrospect, it might have been a voice worth listening to at the time.

Sixteen years later, Mukhina looks back on those early years fondly. Having grown up in the Brezhnev era, earning her stripes during the Wild West period of post-Soviet collapse, and now entering the Putin era, she remembers what it was like to say what she wanted to say. “Suddenly, playwrights had the right to talk,” she says during a recent interview. “They started using language that Russians used in their stairwells and in the provinces. Before that, the theater was supposed to be a cathedral. You would prepare all your life and the doors would never get opened. So there was a revolution.”

Much has happened since the heady early days of New Drama. But in collaboration with Towson’s Department of Theatre Arts, Russian director (and Fulbright fellow) Yury Ournov, and Russian choreographers Albert Albert and Alexandra Konnikova, Mukhina introduces one of international theater’s most intriguing movements to Baltimore. As part of the program, the play has been translated into the American English idiom by American playwright Kate Moira Ryan.

And if that appeals to you, there’s more. The Center for International Theater Development and Towson University present two other works—by playwrights from the same generation—through the spring, including Martial Arts by Yyuri Klavdiev (April 15-20, 2010) and Frozen in Time by Vyacheslav Durnenkov (April 29-May 8, 2010). Yury Klavdiev’s I Am The Machine Gunner is also currently in production by the Generous Theatre Company at Towson’s Center for the Arts Ruth Marder Theatre. The series ends with a conference at Towson for American and Russian theater professionals and press. And hopefully, without Hillary Cliton’s translator to muck things up, Russian-American relations will really be on reset.

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