Translating a KISS

Yury Urnov

Kiss is here, and it’s already causing a stir. A U.S. premiere by “Chile’s most acclaimed playwright-director of the last two decades” (LA Times), it’s a play that allows the personal to bleed into the political through highly innovative theatrical means — if you think you’ve seen it all by now at Woolly, we’re willing to bet that Kiss will surprise you.

To do justice to an international play of this magnitude, there was only one Woolly director for the job: Company Member Yury Urnov. Born in Moscow, Russia, Yury graduated from the Russian Academy of Theater Art (GITIS) in 2000. He has directed plays across the world, including in Europe and Africa, but it’s his experience as a post-Soviet theatre artist in his home country that lends an especially important perspective for the purposes of this production. Kiss, in many ways, is about what happens when regular people are reminded that their lives are dictated by geopolitical forces beyond their control — a point of view that’s not, let’s say, foreign to Urnov.

Urnov and Woolly Company Member Kimberly Gilbert

Nor was it foreign to Marie Antoinette, the titular character of the play Urnov directed at Woolly in 2015, starring Kimberly Gilbert. Marie Antoinette, in playwright David Adjmi’s telling, was the story of a real person brought face-to-face with the surreal consequences of a violently shifting political and social paradigm. It sought to remind audiences that none of us is immune from such consequences — though Marie’s everyday “bubble” was bigger than most, it was still horrific to witness its fatal burst.

Perhaps these are the stories that Urnov likes to help tell. Indeed, he’s also translated plays by Martin McDonagh, Sarah Ruhl, and Edward Albee — playwrights whose work also has a way of shifting gears from the quotidian to the nightmarish in short order — into Russian. Recently at Forum Theatre, he directed McDonagh’s The Pillowman, a play about storytelling set in a dystopian police state.

THE PILLOWMAN at Forum Theatre

Urnov was also one of the first to discover and direct plays by a new generation of post-Soviet playwrights, now internationally recognized as the leaders of the New Russian Drama movement. Since 2002, he has worked closely with the Center for International Theater Development on a number of cultural projects with his home country. Despite the current political strife between the U.S. and Russia, there is still hope, it seems, that art can bring us together.


But can it? That’s the question at the heart of Kiss, a play that takes audiences all the way to Damascus…but by the story’s end, leaves them with an overwhelming desire to look inward, to try to locate whatever it is that makes all of us in this crazy world fundamentally related. Maybe we’ll find it, maybe we won’t. But at least we can keep telling stories, and translating them for each other.