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Talking Across Borders: An Interview with Russian Playwright Ksenia Dragunskaya

Global Exchange
Ksenia Dragunskaya

Playwright Bekah Brunstetter talks with Ksenia Dragunskaya (pictured left) about her play, SHIPWRECK.  An English translation of the play will be presented as a public staged reading here at The Lark on November 3rd, at 7pm, as part of the Russia/U.S. Translation Exchange Program.  Reserve your seat now, all tickets are free!

Bekah: First of all, what a strange and haunting and beautiful play. Thank you for it. Pardon me while I make this about me, just for a moment – but my great-grandparents came over from Russia in the early 20th century, so whenever I read something by a Russian writer, I feel a connection and pull towards it. And so, I have just decided that we are long lost relatives. And so, thanks for sharing your play with me! 

What do you think the main differences are between Russian syntax and English syntax? When you read the American translation of your play, how does it make you feel? 

Ksenia: Actually, I'm not a specialist, not a philologist, I'm just a very "modest "  English-speaker, so it's hard for me to judge about differences in syntax. The most important difference between our languages is, I believe, that we have many suffixes, and we invent words with those suffixes, and we can express our attitude to a person or to an event with the help of suffixes.  Of course, when I'm reading my text translated into English or any foreign language, I'm panicked, thinking, "Everything is totally wrong, where are my suffixes?"  As for this particular translation, I admire it, because Anna comes from Russia, her mother tongue  is Russian and she is absolutely inside the context, having been raised in these dacha places with fields, lakes and water-towers. Anna is a brilliant fiction writer. So, in this very case, I trust the translator  completely.

B: I loved the experience of reading your play, because it feels like part short story, part play. I love how the prose moves into dialogue, and back into prose. You are able to poetically create the world of your play, then move seamlessly to dialogue. I love words so much, so I am also a big fan of writing stage directions that can be read and appreciated like an excerpt from a great book. I’m curious: how will the descriptions of the locations, the characters inner thoughts – the prose part of the piece – function in the reading? Do you think they will be read aloud, as stage directions? 

K: Me too, I love words very much! In 1999 I wrote a play called  The Feeling of a Beard and invented a drama genre - "text for theater and cinema." So, it can be considered  as a script for a movie, a play, or a story just to read. Many  of our playwrights write this way. When The Feeling of a Beard was produced, all the descriptions were pronounced. For Russian theater 15 years ago it was very unusual and strange, but it worked, and the play was on the stage for 11 seasons.  But let's see what an American director will decide about it!

B: I loved the description of Anya, in relation to her Mother. ‘She is not the one expected, just plain not the one.’ My own mother and I are so different, I have oftentimes felt that same thing. And so I must ask: where do you find yourself in Shipwrecked? Have you had or observed that sort of relationship between mother and daughter? 

K: Oh yes, it's quite as my poor late Mom used to act and to talk,  mistreating me when I was a kid! Especially when  mentioning some Masha, "the good girl."

B: The play reads and feels like a fable, to me – would you say you were influenced by those sorts of stories? 

K: I wouldn't say I'm influenced by "pretty fables" generally, but I'm sure - people need miracles sometimes.  And this story and it's characters obviously demanded a strange, but hopeful end.