Gay-Themed Play About Oscar Wilde Hits a Kremlin Roadblock (The New York Times — 21.06.2015)

A plan to stage an American theater company’s gay-themed play in Moscow, with support from the United States government, has stalled amid tensions between the two nations and at a time of Kremlin hostility toward homosexuality.

The Moscow New Drama Theater, a well-regarded company in Russia, had been planning to present the 1997 play, “Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde,” this fall, with a company of Russian actors directed by the play’s writer, Moisés Kaufman, who is the artistic director of the New York-based Tectonic Theater Project. But Mr. Kaufman said he had recently been informed by New Drama Theater that the Russian government had barred the Moscow company from accepting foreign funds for artistic productions, prompting indefinite postponement of the collaboration.

Mr. Kaufman said he believed the real issue was the subject of the play, which is a dramatization of court transcripts from the 1895 prosecutions of Wilde, an Irish writer accused of sexual relationships with men. The play has been staged in New York and Los Angeles; writing in The New York Times, the critic Ben Brantley called it “absolutely gripping” and “the must-see sleeper of the Off Off Broadway season.”

“The opportunity to re-enact the Oscar Wilde trials in Moscow at this time would have been incredibly relevant, and also would have led to the kind of dialogue that is so sorely needed there at this time,” Mr. Kaufman said. He said he always knew there was a risk that at some point the Russian government would seek to squelch the project, but that he did not expect it to be so early; the Russian company was to begin rehearsals in August, and performances were planned for October.

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Viacheslav Dolgachev, the artistic director of the Moscow theater, said the project had been postponed, not canceled, and declined to speak further about it. Mr. Dolgachev is a respected theater artist, and in 2008 directed a production of “The Seagull” at the Classic Stage Company in New York.

A spokesman for the State Department said the agency had provided a grant for the Moscow production as part of its effort “to promote American voices through theater and other artistic mediums,” and said the production had been canceled.

“We are naturally disappointed this project did not go forward, but will continue to promote U.S.-Russian cultural exchange, which is an important component of our bilateral relationship,” said the spokesman, Mark Toner.

The Russian government did not respond to requests for comment.

Moscow has a vibrant theater scene that offers sometimes pointed criticism of Russian life, but Russian theater directors are confronting growing challenges both from the authorities and a polarized public.

One Russian theater, the Satirikon, is producing “All Shades of Blue,” a play about a Russian teenager coming out and the turmoil it causes in his family. Konstantin Raikin, the theater’s director, warned when the play was in rehearsals that it might be blocked by the authorities; the newspaper Izvestia reported on Friday that prosecutors had inquired about the play, and productions at a half-dozen other Moscow theaters, as it looked for evidence of obscenity, immorality or pornography.

Teatr.doc, a small theater known for tackling contemporary issues, has been evicted under pressure by the authorities twice in recent months. And the Bolshoi Theater has faced criticism for working with Timofey Kulyabin, a young opera director who was taken to court in Novosibirsk earlier this year for offending some members of the Russian Orthodox Church.

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The Russian culture minister, Vladimir Medinsky, recently argued for the primacy of homegrown work. “If a state does not feed and does not create its own culture, it will be fed by someone else,” he wrote in Izvestia. “And then at the end of the day, one will end up feeding a foreign army.”

The New York Times, Michael Paulson reported from New York, and Sophia Kishkovsky from Moscow.