Minsk, 2011: A Reply to Kathy Acker | Theater review
Minsk, 2011: A Reply to Kathy Acker is one of those experiences that brings an audience to its feet, but when the actors leave the stage and the clapping ends, the theater is dead silent. It takes a few moments to process the intense, provocative and exhilarating 85 minutes that have just unfolded on stage.
Conceived and directed by Vladimir Shcherban and written by the Belarus Free Theatre ensemble, this nonfictional, experimental look at sexual oppression in the capital city of Belarus is unlike anything else currently playing in Chicago theaters, performed with a commitment that gives the impression that these actors’ live depend on it. And in a way, they do. Just last month, the company's rehearsals were raided by the Belarusian police; company members have been arrested, blacklisted and even exiled for voicing disapproval of the country’s totalitarian government.
It’s best to go into Minsk, 2011 knowing little of what’s to come. Some of the topics discussed include Belarus’s first LGBT pride parade, the relationship between eroticism and pornography, the May 2011 bombing of the Minsk subway and the lack of global interest in a suffering country that isn’t “sexy.” Sexy countries have valuable resources, and Belarus only has people.
Those people are the rapidly beating heart of this production, and the flawless cast of nine creates a stirring portrait of a city in distress that won’t let go of these actors’ hearts. Performed in Russian and Belarusian with projected English translations, the passion of the performers overcomes any language barrier. When the cast members each deliver a deeply personal monologue about their 2011 in Minsk at the end of the show, the flood of stripped-down honesty is heartbreaking yet incredibly inspiring.
With nine chairs, a red carpet and minimal props, Belarus Free Theatre turns a white stage into a hotbed of political discourse and human emotion. Minsk, 2011 is an unforgettable theatrical event, exposing the pain and confusion of an ailing city and the hope that keeps its people moving forward in the face of opposition.
Minsk, 2011: A Reply to Kathy Acker runs through February 3 at Chicago Shakespeare Theater (800 E Grand Ave, 312-595-5600).