Maksym Kurochkin: A Writer for the Global Age

I have always said that Maksym Kurochkin is the perfect writer for the global age. Max, as I know him, is a writer who delights in breaking down barriers. I have a feeling that impulse is connected in some way with Max’s heritage. He is the son of a historian and he grew up in Kiev, the great city of ancient Rus, the capital of Ukraine. Ages ago the land that became known as Kiev was a crossroads and it brought through peoples, traders and warriors from north, south, east and west. True, I’m taking things way back, but Maksym is the kind of writer who taps deeply into the past even as he projects out into the unknown future. The majority of his two dozen plays mix the past, the present and the future in seamless constructs that appear odd and absolutely natural at the same time. Moreover, Max delights in throwing incongruous combinations of cultures and civilizations together.

I am presently on a tour of the U.S. with Max and our colleague Yelena Kovalskaya, the art director of the Lyubimovka New Play Festival in Moscow. In Ann Arbor and Baltimore, we are presenting readings and staged readings of Max’s plays “Kitchen” and “The Schooling of Bento Bonchev.” The first is a wild extravaganza combining characters from the Nibelung saga with modern Russians who work in the slick, flashy kitchen at a newly-built medieval castle. Yes, that is supposed to raise eyebrows. As is Max’s use of Shakespearean verse, quotations of Beavis and Butthead and other such delicious devices. “Bento Bonchev” imagines a young man of Bulgarian descent living in the United States at some time in the future – he is a grad student fascinated by his study of that historical era in human relations when people used to find communion in love and sex.

“Mooncrazed,” the play translated by John Hanlon which will be presented in part at the Martin E. Segal Center on Monday, March 22, is still another of Kurochkin’s wild rides through time and cultures. With nods to “Cyrano de Bergerac” and to Moliere, as well as to the problems of the contemporary world, “Mooncrazed” takes a smart, withering look at the world we live in, the art we make and the cultures we build. And, like “Kitchen” and “The Schooling of Bento Bonchev,” it travels well beyond the experience of the Russian, or even, Slavic world. This would appear to be one of Kurochkin’s missions as a writer – to rethink the Russian/Slavic experience in the light of the greater world in which it exists. Max once told me, “I find the myth of the Nibelungs to be more important to Russian culture than that of Stanislavsky as a theatrical icon. And so I put the Nibelungs in my play.” I quote that from memory, and so apologize to Max for any distortion of his thought. But my point is this – this Ukrainian-born, Russian-language writer is showing us an entirely new aspect of the Russian cultural experience. It is one, I feel safe in suggesting, none of us has ever even imagined, let alone suspected to exist. Maksym Kurochkin’s world is utterly unique, fantastically inventive and indispensable for an understanding of Russia’s new role in the world.

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