"Stage Makes Room for Playwright's Tragic Figure"
By John Freedman

The Moscow Times
Sept. 13, 2001


Viktor Korkiya laughs when asked why so many of his plays are written about characters created hundreds or even thousands of years ago.

"Well, I can't write about Yeltsin," he chuckles. "All you can do with him is make a puppet and put it on TV. I know too much about him; his drunken speech, the way he sneezes, the way he conducts a band on stage. In our age, politicians can only be caricatures in art. Tragic figures can only be those we don't see all the time."

One could stretch it and suggest that Korkiya himself, then, is something of a tragic figure. Here he is, one of Russia's most inventive playwrights whose works have ingeniously plundered and renewed myths developed by Shakespeare, Euripides, Lope de Vega, Moliere and others, although only a relative few outside a small circle of theater and literary people have heard of him. Fewer still have seen his plays performed.

Korkiya, however, an enduring fount of energy and ideas, laughs too infectiously and too readily to be tagged with such epithets as "tragic." Anyway, following a 13-year hiatus during which only a couple of his plays were produced obscurely at the Moscow University Theater, he happily is bracing himself to see two plays open in a three-week period.

First up, on Wednesday, will be "Quixote and Sancho," his free adaptation of the Don Quixote myth produced by the Oksana Mysina Theatrical Brotherhood. It will be followed in early October by "Hecuba," his reworking of Euripides' tragedy as staged by his longtime friend Yevgeny Slavutin at the Moscow University Theater.

But, before getting any ideas of Korkiya as a mere adapter of other writers' works, think again.

"Sure, I read 'Don Quixote,'" Korkiya grins with tongue planted firmly in cheek. "After I wrote my play."

For all the mirth that invariably surrounds this writer, however, there is a method to his madness. He has been a respected poet for over 30 years. A recent textbook named Korkiya, along with Dmitry Prigov and Lyudmila Petrushevskaya, as one of Russia's most significant postmodernist writers.

Born in Moscow in 1948 of Georgian descent, Korkiya was a poetry editor at the prestigious Yunost magazine and one of the leaders of the new wave in poetry in the 1970s. He was among an elite group of writers comprising the legendary Alexei Arbuzov playwriting workshop in the 1970s and 1980s. His first major play, "The Mystery Man, or, I am Poor Soso Dzhugashvili," a philosophical farce in verse about Joseph Stalin and Lavrenty Beria -- a fascinating and hilarious exercise in making puppets of politicians -- enjoyed fantastic success when staged at Moscow University in 1988. It subsequently was performed in nearly 80 theaters throughout the Soviet Union and beyond.

Still, the 1990s passed by Korkiya's plays with barely a sideways glance. One might speculate that he put himself outside of the mainstream by invariably writing in verse, but the real explanation is simpler: All contemporary playwrights were ignored almost systematically throughout the last decade.

None of that affected Korkiya as a writer. He continued to write plays such as "Hamlet.ru," "Don Juan," "The Invincible Armada" (after Lope de Vega) and "The Flying Doctor" (based on themes from Moliere) even as theaters continued to give him the cold shoulder.

"The classics exist in us besides our reading of them," Korkiya remarks. "Hamlet represents mankind as a whole. Don Quixote epitomizes the human dream. I use these characters because everyone knows them. I need not waste time explaining who they are, I can get right down to what interests me. My Don Quixote tilts at windmills, too, but it has nothing to do with what Cervantes wrote."

Don Quixote is a crucial figure for our time, suggests Korkiya.

"In eras of furious buy-sell-trade, the dreamer sticks out like a sore thumb," he explains. "Art demands antitheses, and Don Quixote, the dreamer, is the antithesis of our age. The idea of Don Quixote is the idea of the loner who is prepared to go out and battle evil. He knows he may be ridiculed for it, but that does not matter."

"Quixote and Sancho" will not only be the first salvo in introducing Korkiya's name to a wider audience, it marks the directing debut of Oksana Mysina, one of Moscow's most prominent actresses, best known for her starring roles in Kama Ginkas' production of "K.I. from 'Crime'" and Oleg Menshikov's production of "Kitchen." Mysina will also take the unorthodox step of playing Sancho Panza herself.

"This is going to be a very unusual show," notes Korkiya, who attended preliminary dress rehearsals in July. "One thing that struck me especially was that its action takes place on three planes simultaneously -- so to speak, on earth, in heaven and in a state of limbo. The actors work not only on the stage, but on a platform raised above it and on a balcony on high. This is the show's dominant metaphor for me, that everything that happens with us always occurs on three levels."

Korkiya is now so intrigued by the Don Quixote myth that he plans to write at least three more plays -- "Quixote and Sancho in Russia," "Quixote and Sancho in Virtual Reality" and "Quixote and Sancho in the Donkey Constellation," where the author plans to arrange a meeting of his heroes with Jesus Christ.

"Cervantes made a big mistake in killing Don Quixote off," says Korkiya. "I don't want him to die."




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