It can often take years for foreign plays and novels to receive an English translation. So it's impressive that it only took one year for Vladimir Zaytsey's gay Russian drama Out of the Blue to receive its U.S. English-language premiere in Chicago, courtesy of Organic Theater Company.
Organic Theater artistic director Alexander Gelman said he considers himself lucky to have been in the right place and right time to see Out of the Blue just days after its debut at the respected Moscow theater known as the Satirikon in May 2015.
"When I saw it, I immediately knew this was a play that needed to be done in the states," said Gelman, who was able to fast-track a Chicago production of Out of the Blue thanks to his many connections to Russian theater colleagues. "It's a brave production."
Out of the Blue hints to its subject matter in the title, since "blue" is Russian slang for gay. Zaytsey, a heterosexual-identified Russian playwright who wrote the drama in his late 20s, essentially exposes the potential horrors in store in modern-day Russia for a gay teenager who comes out as a way to try to keep his sparring parents together.
In their quest to "cure" their son of his homosexuality, the parents and grandmother grasp at a myriad of unsettling ideas. A female prostitute is hired by the father, while an exorcist of sorts is also called upon.
Given all the homophobic and repressive Russian laws that have been passednot to mention what Gelman says are the backward mindsets of many Russians who conflate homosexuality with pedophiliaOut of the Blue is understandably a tragedy.
"As with any good play, this is a play about family. It's not strictly speaking a political play and I don't feel it was necessarily written to make a political statement," Gelman said. "It's a very honest, genuine investigation of the human condition that includes substantially and centrally the issue of something as private as this becoming public and the treatment of gays in modern Russia."
It's been reported that Zaytsey based Out of the Blue from a real-life incident in 2012, when a Russian father put his 16-year-old son into a psychiatric clinic for being gay. A way that Moscow producers of Out of the Blue have amazingly steered clear of the 2013 Russian law that supposedly bans any spread of "homosexual propaganda" to minors is by only admitting audience members over the age of 21.
But even then Gelman said Out of the Blue has come in for lots of condemnation by Russian authorities. He said a tour of the production to St. Petersburg prompted a bomb scare, picketing and one local politician to demand a government investigation.
"It's ironic because the play has been investigated among other things for pornographic content and there's very little physical contact in the play," Gelman said. "And whatever there is, it's between the mother and father charactersnot with the same-sex lovers, friends and so on."
As with many Organic Theater productions, Gelman has chosen to present Out of the Blue in repertory with another playNeil Simon's 1973 comedy The Good Doctor, which draws from a number of short stories by the celebrated Russian playwright Anton Chekhov. One could argue that this selection serves as a reminder to some of the past cultural glories of Russian culture to counterbalance a modern work that is much more critical. Gelman also said doing repertory performances allows the actors cast in both productions to stretch themselves and find correlating overtones.
"You get a sense of both the otherness of friends across the ocean and the extraordinary commonality we have them," Gelman said. "The sorts of travails that the main character in Out of the Blue suffers are not unlike what his American counterpart would have suffered as recently as 20 years agothe sort of argument and conversation and vitriol that comes out from some of the other characters about him and his plight and his orientation are not anything that is going to be foreign to our audiences."
Organic Theater Company presents the U.S. premiere of Vladimir Zaytsev's Out of the Blue in a translation by Tatyana Khaikin and Robert Duffy at the Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave. now through July 10 ( in repertory with Neil Simon's The Good Doctor ).
Tickets are $30 and $20 for students to each separate production; call 773-404-7336 or visit OrganicTheater.org .