U.S. PREMIERE FRIDAY : SOVIET TALKS ABOUT CHERNOBYL PLAY

"If audiences see my play and want to march off and shut down all the nuclear power plants and weapons stations," said Vladimir Gubaryev, Pravda science editor and playwright of "Sarcophagus" (opening at the Los Angeles Theatre Center in its U.S. premiere Friday), "I will march off with them."

Then he added, smiling, "But I doubt that will happen."

At a press conference in the Theatre Center's rehearsal room, Gubaryev, flanked by his interpreter, Grigori Nersesyan, and "Sarcophagus" translator Michael Glenny, offered up his own brand of realism about the issues that his work--about the victims of the Chernobyl disaster--raises.

One of those issues, at least implicitly, is the wisdom of continuing on a nuclear course. "Unfortunately," he stated, "for the next 50 years, we can't live without nuclear energy. By the next century, perhaps, solar power will come into its own."

Gubaryev wasn't done surprising those who had thought that "Sarcophagus," his fourth play, was written in an anti-nuclear state of mind. "I'm not sure these 'safe' technologies will be truly safe," he added. "The history of technological development shows us that with each new step, the dangers increase. But I believe that we're here to deal with challenges, catastrophes. Otherwise, we will revert back to the caves."

From the moment he flew over the destroyed No. 4 reactor as the first journalist at the disaster site, through the hours he spent interviewing victims, villagers and plant staff who provided the raw data for characters, what disturbed this engineer-turned-writer was that the scientific community, himself included, had "tragically believed that such accidents could not occur. Chernobyl changed those perceptions completely. All you need for a global disaster is a small group of terrorists attacking one plant."

Which is precisely one of the reasons offered for permanently closing down such plants as Chernobyl. Gubaryev left his listeners pondering these paradoxical responses and touched on a new wrinkle in glasnost : "superdemocracy," as he referred to it, in Soviet theater.

"What is happening now," said Gubaryev, who confessed that he was not a part of Moscow's theater world, "is that several theaters elect their artistic directors. All key decisions are made by all those who work in that theater."

Glenny, who said that he had initially translated "Sarcophagus" "on spec," added that the policy "has turned theaters into Vermont town meetings. One person, one vote. Nothing gets decided."

Besides what Gubaryev referred to as "a very conservative theater tradition," he and Glenny both claim that this indecision is why the play has yet to receive a professional staging in Moscow (though it's been seen in eight Soviet cities, as well as abroad).

Glenny, though, insisted that the chief artistic minds of the Moscow Art Theatre, still the flagship stage of the country, want to do the play.

"They told me," he said, "that 'soon, we'll get our way.' "

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