Arts & Entertainment
1 min

Interrogating Russia

Skip the Olympic closing ceremonies in favour of Komunka, a play about the trouble with modern Russia

Komunka depicts life in modern-day Russia. Credit: Xtra file photo

News out of Russia is grisly: while the punk-rock band Pussy Riot is horsewhipped in the street and persecution of queer people continues, Olympic athletes pose for irksome selfies with the dead-eyed despot who presides over it all.

We know about some of the horrors going on in Russia, but few of us have any sense of why these things are happening — why modern Russia is so troubled.

Created by Yury Ruzhyev and directed by Sky Gilbert, Komunka fills in some of the blanks. The play is set during the 2014 Winter Olympics. Using a communal apartment as the setting — each family lives in a separate room but shares the kitchen and bathroom — the play brings together people from different segments of Russian society, from a gay couple to a corrupt banker. When the inhabitants, during the course of their everyday activities, meet up in the kitchen, their differences clash, providing varied perspectives on Russia’s many problems, from homophobia to economic issues.

The issues explored extend beyond those surrounding the Olympics. “We touch on [the Olympics] because they spent $51 billion on it, and the conditions [of Russian society] are so miserable. One of the questions we explore is what could be done with that money to fix conditions in Russia,” Ruzhyev says.

Because Russia’s problems are reflected in how people there live, Komunka attemps to recreate day-to-day life. “It would be cool for Canadians to come and see what the real Russians are — see them in their natural habitat. You can see things in the media, but it’s different from what real life is,” Ruzhyev says.

This workshop performance is an opportunity to refine the play for an official production at this year’s Toronto Fringe Festival. The timing of the workshop is no coincidence; with pleasing symmetry, not only is the play set during the Olympics, but the workshop itself will take place during the closing ceremonies. There are few better ways to boycott the Olympics than by skipping the closing ceremonies in favour of a play that tries to make sense of it all.