Theater, Social Commentary and the Paradox of Moscow Traffic

Theater Plus blog No. 83. A video blog with German journalist Thomas Irmer. Thomas is – or at least was – a frequent visitor to Moscow and his insights are always fresh and interesting. 

18 August 2010
By John Freedman

I recently found myself sharing conversation with Thomas Irmer, a German journalist and theater critic, at a symposium called Art and Place in rural Massachusetts. The two-day program of panel discussions, films and theater performances was held at Double Edge Theater in the small town of Ashfield.

Moscow, however, was never far from our thoughts.

Irmer, who was born and grew up in East Berlin and frequently writes for the respected journal Theater Heute, was in Moscow in May to cover the opening of the Chekhov International Theater Festival. In this case he was there in the capacity of filmmaker, to shoot reactions to the world premiere of Frank Castorf‘s production of “To Moscow! To Moscow!” This was a co-production of the Volksbuhne in Berlin and the Chekhov Festival. Soon the production will go on to performances in Vienna and Berlin.

“To Moscow! To Moscow!” split Russian audiences down the middle, with many screaming bloody murder and others calling the work brilliant. It is a combination of Chekhov’s play “Three Sisters” and his story “The Peasants.” If you read German, there is an online version of Irmer’s print piece about the production.

Irmer noted that the performances at the Mossoviet Theater in late May were a fine example of a “cultural clash” that juxtaposed a Russian audience seeking traditional theater with a German director who was interested in Chekhov as a “muckraker” and a purveyor of “social grotesque.”

But that isn’t all that Irmer noticed while in the Russian capital. He also made some astute and humorous observations about “the paradox of gridlock and speeding that is one of the dynamics of Moscow today.”

Finally, Irmer pointed out that some of the best sources of information about Russia in Germany are think-pieces written by well-known Russian novelists, such as Viktor Yerofeyev, Vladimir Sorokin and others. He calls this phenomenon a throwback to the tradition of Russian writers composing social commentary for newspapers in the 19th century, only in this case the pieces are being written expressly for a German readership.

To hear more on these topics, click on the picture below to watch my chat with Irmer, which was filmed in Double Edge Theater’s barn workshop.

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