Russian-born playwright and activist Natalia Pelevine is co-founder and resident playwright of Dare to Speak Productions ( http://www.daretospeakproductions.com ). Pelevine co-founded the Democratic Russia Committee, and recently became one of the leaders of the Russian Opposition, which, among other things, helps to organize anti-Putin rallies.
Pelevine recently spoke with Theater Scene about her new play, I Plead Guilty, based on the Moscow Theater Siege of 2002, at the Gene Frankel Theatre. Focusing on themes of war, revenge, and motherhood, Pelevine cites that her play can speak to any person concerned about the horrors of terrorism, and its impact on our contemporary world.
Here is an excerpt of our phone conversation on May 26th.
Theater Scene. Tell me about the real-life event that inspired I Plead Guilty.
Natalia Pelevine. The real life event happened in 2002 in October when over 50 Islamic hostage-takers from the region of Chechen in the southern region of Russia took over a 1000 people hostage at a theater. My play is largely trying to investigate why a terrorist may have gone to such lengths to take over innocent people in a theater. So we talk very much about war in general.
TS. Your play is a two-hander. What attracts you to its two characters?
NP. Both of them are in a very critical situation. One of them is there by choice, the other one isn’t. There’s such a range of emotions because the circumstances are so unusual. I think a lot of us will feel for the hostage. She knows very well that she might not walk away from this alive. And we don’t have to like the terrorist necessarily. But her journey is quite interesting because her views change in the process.
TS. An early version of I Plead Guilty, entitled In your Hands, was staged in London in Russia. How is this New York production different?
NP. We had many more characters in London and in Russia. It was my choice in the beginning to talk about a lot of different stories, of the hostages being taken over and being kept in that theater for 3 days. And then I decided to bring it back to my original idea, and that was really to make it about two women, where one is a hostage and one is a terrorist. The characters are polar opposites in many respects, but they find a lot of things in common during the process. The interesting thing about hostage-taking, if I may use that word ‘interesting,’ is that there is time to talk.
TS. Did you direct the London and Russian productions of In Your Hands?
NP. I did not actually. The London version was directed by a British director and the one in Moscow was directed by a Russian director. This is my first experience directing the play.
TS. Who is your ideal audience for I Plead Guilty?
NP. I think anybody who isn’t indifferent to what is happening around the world in international affairs. But, most importantly, it’s for people who pay attention to terrorism, and anybody who wants to look into the origin of terrorism. It is different around the world, but nevertheless there is an origin. There are roots to this terrible concept of terrorism.
TS. What do you want the audience to take away from this play?
NP. The most important thing is that we are all human, that no matter what our religion is, no matter what our cultural background is, we have the same need to love. And I think, as cliché as it is, it’s just going back to who we are, to who we are meant to be.