Belarus Free Theatre's

Minsk 2011, A Reply to Kathy Acker

January 20

February 3, 2013

Upstairs at Chicago Shakespeare

A World’s Stage Production from Belarus

Critical Acclaim

“Something mythic—a sight to inspire fear and wonder—tears its way into existence toward the end of Minsk, 2011, the beautiful and brutal performance piece from the Belarus Free Theatre. Like many of the richest moments in theater, this one involves very simple elements: black ink, a long roll of brown paper and a naked woman. Sounds like the setup for a joke, doesn’t it? But you could call what happens in this sequence a joke only in the cosmic sense, as visions of retribution sometimes are. Sure, what you’re looking at is only a metaphor, but one with a visceral reality that claws at your imagination and leaves scars. An image that could be fully achieved only by live performers on a stage, it’s a fierce reminder that in art, anger can be a most fertile mother of invention. That relationship has made the Belarus Free Theatre, which is banned from performing in its own country, one of the most powerful and vividly resourceful underground companies on the planet.”

“The brisk 85-minute piece paints a damning portrait of a crippled culture while simultaneously illustrating the spirit of freedom that animates its creators and performers.”

“I don’t think it’s possible to be prepared for the Belarus Free Theatre, so it’s best to not even try.  All you can do, really, is surrender yourself to the whirlwind of experiences to come, which might provoke laughter, pain, confusion, empathy, fear or hope — in turns or all at once.  There were times I almost felt I should hold on to my seat, as if I were on a roller coaster going upside down.”

“Directed and adapted by Vladmir Shcherban from texts supplied by the actors, the show works like a kaleidoscopic revue. A canteen suddenly turns into a louche underground sex club. Faces peer through upturned plastic chairs to evoke a subway train. A naked woman, sealed in paper like a parcel, defiantly brandishes a whip from inside her casing. But the most moving part of the show is the climax when the actors relate their personal stories. They reveal their deep attachment to home, even though many of them have nothing much to return to: the oldest, a political refugee, describes his exile from his family and how, through his laptop, he manages to create ‘a virtual Minsk .’ This is what makes the show remarkable: it is a cry of protest against a society where even private life is subject to regulation yet, at the same time, is imbued with a nostalgic patriotism and belief in the possibility of a better future.”

“Political theatre can sometimes come over as an enjoyable intellectual exercise: a chance to confirm or test your views against the world portrayed on stage. Not in the case of Belarus Free Theatre. The company’s latest piece is urgent, angry and eloquent. Most striking of all, it becomes clear that it is driven by a deep affection for the performers’ native land. Everyone on stage has been sacked, harassed or even arrested for their activities with the Belarus Free Theatre because the company speaks out against the country’s oppressive regime. Their retort is to remain creative. Here they explore repression in their capital city, Minsk, through a series of vignettes loosely depicting attitudes to sex, sexuality and the sex trade . ”

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