Why I Read Plays. By Yelena Moskovich

Why I Read Plays. By Yelena Moskovich

I like to feel very close to what happens to a face.

I like the skin there, restless topography, curving, pulling, pinching, releasing, the nerve-grid beneath, the jaw as it slides over its hinge… I like all the things that happen to a face before it can emit even a single word.

This is why most of my life I’ve been reading plays. It’s a particular intimacy.

It was really only about 4 years ago that I even began reading novels. During my theatre years, even when I was writing and directing, no moment on stage or in the audience replaced my solitary experience with dramatic text. It’s there that language furrows its own incapacity to speak. This is my small, incomplete homage to those plays and playwrights who introduced to this unspoken speech.

To the Norwegian Jon Fosse, his four word sentences, advancing, retracting, building an unsettling immobility. His plays do not move forward, the reader moves forward in them.


To the German Roland Schimmelpfennig (Arabian Night, Push Up), to the Argentine Osvaldo Dragún and his political parables like The Man Who Turned into a Dog, to Bernard-Marie Koltès (Tabataba, Black Battles with Dogs) and his raptures of resistance within internalized violence, to Laurent Gaudé (Salina, Sofia Douleur):

“The palm branches fold softly in the wind. (…) Who wants a piece of me? Who wants Sofia?”

To the female playwrights who redefined women’s voices in drama and challenged taboos with frightening elegance, thank you Caryl Churchill (Cloud Nine, Top Girls), Paula Vogel (The Mineola Twins), and Suzan Lori Parks (Topdog / Underdog).


To the French female playwrights like the deconstructionist Russian-born Nathalie Sarraute (Pour un oui ou pour un non) and Marie NDiaye (Papa doit manger, Rien d’humain):

“As for me…I’m still mourning…I’ve always had, for myself – yes – an inexplicable love.”

Lastly, a special moment for the Ivorian Koffi Kwahulé, who I had the chance of meeting in May of 2009.

It was a moment of struggle in my life, going to graduate school at Université Paris 8 just to hold on to my shaky Visa, taking that noxious line 13 all the way up to Saint-Denis for an hour and a half there, then back, rushing to rehearse, begging for rehearsal space, rehearsing anywhere, the nice cafés that let us move around the chairs early in the morning when there were no customers so we could go through a scene or two. Endlessly applying for funds, never getting paid, never paying the actors, all of us feeling like revolutionaries, tugging around our own props, sewing up torn costumes, hitting our heads and elbows on those unexpected surfaces in encumbering half-rooms. Bruised, sleepless, and ambitious, running to our side jobs, perpetually renewing our visas. I got the most of my 15 hour per week restricted working permit, teaching English, serving, translating, thinking about where to rehearse.

That’s where I met Koffi. It was my thesis director at the time gave me his contact, as I was writing on spatial tension of dramatic text. I emailed him and he told me to meet at his favorite café, Le Bataclan. He was a boxer, turns out, like my father.

I took the collection of his interviews called Frères du Son with me, a book I had been carrying around everywhere. In it, he had summed up exactly what I was trying to do with writing: “…as to not submit to this language, I must make it resonate differently.”

I was star-struck and felt out of context, a young Slavic American in front of the warm-eyed, tall, grounded person known as the ‘jazzman’ of playwriting.

We spoke about immigrating. About families. About finding time to write. About rehearsal spaces.

We didn’t talk about what I had planned: those post-colonial spaces of simultaneous healing and brutalization, subjugation and individuality. But then again, I suppose we did. The tenderness of such a space, of our faces, of our lives, in the lines written to be spoken, and read in silence:

Father: Who gave you permission?

Ikédia: I don’t wait ‘round for permission.

(P’tite Souillure, Lil’ Filth, Koffi Kwahulé)

Yelena Moskovich was born in 1984 in the Ukraine (former USSR) and emigrated to the US with her family in 1991. After graduating with a degree in playwriting from Emerson College, Boston, she moved to Paris to study at the Lecoq School of Physical Theatre, and later for a Masters degree in Art, Philosophy and Aesthetics from Universite Paris 8. Her plays have been produced in the US, Vancouver, Paris, and Stockholm. She lives in Paris. The Natashas is her first novel.

Listen to Yelena read at Shakespeare and Company on 1 February, 2016 by subscribing to our podcast.

About Adam

Adam Biles is the Events Manager at Shakespeare and Company and the author of FEEDING TIME, published by Galley Beggar Press.