Sunday, May 20, 2018

ANNA NEMTSOVA: Putin Didn’t Murder the Playwrights. His Regime Broke Their Hearts

When Mikhail Ugarov and Yelina Gremina died only 45 days apart after producing a play about Sergei Magnitsky, conspiracy theories were rife. But the truth is simpler, and sadder.

MOSCOW—Mikhail Ugarov and Yelina Gremina, husband and wife, created the only independent documentary theater company in Moscow. Teatr.doc took on contemporary Russia and its most acute issues with anthropological rigor. Every performance gave clear evidence, hard proof of injustice.
There is a sort of bitter irony in the narrative that developed about the couple’s passing, as people on the other side of the world tried to fit them into a narrative of mysterious deaths that might be linked to vindictive conspiracies by the Kremlin. But that simply was not the case. The couple’s love for the theater and for each other was bigger than life, and they died within less than two months of each other, not least, because their hearts were broken.

Ugarov died age 62 on April Fool’s Day this year. People who loved him complained that it was a poor joke. Gremina passed away on Wednesday. In the past year she was seriously ill and rarely left the house, and everybody who knew her understood that she could not live long without her Ugarov. To those who loved them it felt “as if they disappeared under water, while still hugging,” culture and art observer Ksenia Larina wrote on her blog.

To be sure, Gremina’s play “One Hour Eighteen” was not to the Kremlin’s liking. It documented the death of anti-corruption lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, whose name has been given to laws the world over punishing Russia for human rights abuses. “Our theater is about true details and not about conspiracy. Both Yelena Anatolyevna [Gremina] and Mikhail Yuryevich [Ugarov] were very serious about honesty,” Zarema Zaudinova, Ugarov’s assistant and one of Teatr.doc’s young directors, told The Daily Beast on Friday. Gremina showed the human indifference around the death of a prisoner suffering agonizing pain, and it is classic Teatr.doc: the viewer is given a chance to see a well-verified drama—the nurse, who is standing by the door to the cell, not doing anything, while security officers are inside the cell with Magnitsky during the last minutes of his life… read more: