(Dan Bilefsky’s and Jeremy Fassler’s article appeared in The New York Times, 4/7; via Pam Green; Photo: Dmitry Krymov, one of Russia’s most important theater directors, has remained in the United States since signing a letter opposing Russia’s war in Ukraine.Credit…James Estrin/The New York Times.)
Dmitry Krymov, one of Russia’s most eminent directors, is among the dozens of artists who have left their homeland since Russia invaded Ukraine.
Dmitry Krymov, one of Russia’s most important theater directors, has remained in the United States since signing a letter opposing Russia’s war in Ukraine.Credit…James Estrin/The New York Times
If Dmitry Krymov, the celebrated Russian director and playwright, were directing a play about his life, the third act would begin, he mused, in a cramped, art-filled apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. It is winter, nearly a year after Russia invaded Ukraine, turning his brief visit to the United States into an open-ended exile after he spoke out against the war. And his living room has suddenly burst into flames.
So much brownish-black smoke is filling the apartment that he can’t see his arms, and he’s gasping for air. The computer containing drafts of his plays is burning. He is struggling to stamp out the flames with a blanket. Then darkness. His lungs are so badly damaged by the fire, which was apparently caused by a wire that short-circuited, that his doctors keep him in an induced coma for nine days.
But this third act, Krymov stressed later, is not meant to be the final one.
Surviving a fire, he added wryly, had been a baptism of sorts for his new life in the United States. “A fire brings you closer to a country, when you burn,” Krymov, 68, said recently as he recovered at a friend’s apartment and reflected on his self-imposed displacement, which he sees as a banishment of sorts, but also as a rebirth. “My life as a play needs to end with something, and I hope that we’re not at the end,” he added.
Krymov, who scaled the heights of Russian theater during a storied career, left Moscow last year, the day after the invasion of Ukraine, for what he thought would be a six-week trip to the United States to direct a production of Chekhov’s “The Cherry Orchard” at the Wilma Theater in Philadelphia. He packed only one small suitcase.
Before getting on one of the last Aeroflot flights to New York, he became one of the first prominent Russian cultural luminaries to sign a public letter criticizing the war. “We don’t want a new war, we don’t want people to die,” the letter said.
The reaction was harsh. In the months that followed, he said, the authorities closed seven of his nine plays, which were playing at some of Moscow’s most vaunted theaters, and his name was erased from the posters and the programs of the two that continued. The cancellations were crushing, he said, but he had no regrets about signing the letter.
“Sometimes,” he said, “you are facing something that is so obvious there is no other way.”
During President Vladimir V. Putin’s first two decades in power, Russians in many walks of life — including the arts — were sometimes forced into compromises as the space for free speech narrowed. But with the war, that space has slammed shut almost entirely. As Putin has introduced some of the most draconian measures against freedom of expression since the end of the Cold War, Krymov has become part of a growing exodus of Russian artists, writers and intellectuals who have left the country, dealing a heavy blow to Russian culture.