I walk by the theater twice a day every Monday through Friday. I've lived in three apartments now, and my path to work from each one of them passes by the huge structure. It's smack in the middle of town across the street from our square. And I often see the banners hanging outside advertising the plays, but like most things that are constant like that, I never went. I imagine that millions of New Yorkers have never been to the Statue of Liberty following the same logic. What's the rush? There will be more time to do that later. (I have been in the theater itself – four times already. Twice for performing in KVN, once for a NGO forum, and once for the ballet. But I had never been to a drama performance there.)
So about a month ago (wow, I haven't updated in a long time), I saw a banner that was different than the usual one hanging outside the theater. 10th Annual Kazakhstan Drama Festival. Taraz. September 15-22. On it was written a schedule with plays being held twice a day. Most of it was written in Kazakh, so I asked two guys standing around to translate it for me. They said there would be a play in the morning every day at 10am, and one in the afternoon at 7pm. Groups from all over Kazakhstan would come here to perform. Where do I get tickets, I asked. No tickets. Free for everyone. Free plays! I'm in. I called Asela and asked if she was free at 7pm. We were going to the theater.
Now when I asked those guys to translate the banner, I swear they said that it was a kid's play that evening. So I went in expecting a puppet show or something. What we got was a love story set in Germany during World War II. In Kazakh. I loved it. The play opened to a scene of a squad of Kazakh soldiers who just heard the news that the war was over. There was laughing, joking, and pranking among their happy ranks. Then they dispersed and one soldier was left wandering. He stumbles upon a young woman and when he saves her life from some artillery fire (I guess the war wasn't quite over), they fall in love. Then Asela leans over and tells me she's German! Crucial plot point that would have been missed without some translating help.
The play (or as its called in Russian, spektackle) then shows the guy's commander back in headquarters wondering why this usually good soldier went AWOL. He is determined to find him and punish him for his subordinate behavior. Eventually, the squad does find him. And he is punished. For deserting his comrades and for associating with an enemy. The commander is sadistic and enjoys torturing him, asking him where they can find the girl's location. Eventually, the commander's commander shows up. Then the girl shows up. She pleas for her man, and the higher-up commander lets him go after she leaves.
He searches for her and finds her. But he tells her he must go back to Russia on the train. She begs him to stay, so he gives her his hat. She is left yelling "Peter, Peter!" (but in Russian, its like Pai-ter, Pai-ter), clutching his hat, as the stage goes dark.
And it was really well done. The young guy that played the AWOL guy did a great job, as did everyone else. The stage design terrific. The costumes were authentic looking. Most stuff in Kazakhstan is way-over-the-top glitz and dancing and tackiness. This was not that at all, and I was super impressed. And despite it all being in Kazakh, I understood most of the play. What was on the stage was pretty understandable.
I was hooked. And decided I had to go back later in the week to see the premiere of the Spektackle "Baurzhan Momushylu."