by KC Weakley · December 18, 2014
Lilli Stein, Devin McDuffee, Lila Newman | Michelle Laird
How does one start to understand and appreciate a culture and a time different from ones’ own, especially when those cultures differ in such vast ways?
I grew up during the Cold War, in a small farming community in the Midwest, about as far from Russia as everyone else in the U S of A at that time. My third grade teacher, Miss Marcucci, taught us the proper position for surviving a nuclear attack. It remains unclear whether that position would have been effective.
What Miss Marcucci and the rest of us Americans didn’t understand was how effectively the Soviet position worked at a personal and familial level.
Essie Martsinkovsky has written and the cast at The Brick Theater, in Williamsburg, created a beautiful 70-minute glimpse into the lives of several Refuseniks; Jewish Russians trying desperately to escape that Soviet machine and assimilate into new lives here in America. Multiple generations of proud and misunderstood people on both sides impose and inflict their standards on others in ways that stem from and lead back into confusion, mistrust and fear. Resolution and harmony may not be possible.
This is a complex and layered drama where characters shift radically, quickly and deftly, assuming attitudes and persona that belie their chronologies. This is rich stuff. The Russian language becomes an intimate character in the struggles, upholding the past and oppressing the present like the tension on the surface of a frozen pond.
Charity Schubert portrays Zina, a multi-faceted grandmother in a poignant struggle raising her granddaughter Lina in this new and confusing immigrant world. Schubert’s skills shine bright.
Lina, the granddaughter, played by Lilli Stein, rebels at the old, embraces the new, and is caught trying to understand her two cultures. She mirrors Zina out of time. Stein is equally lustrous.
Direction by Anna Strasser is clear, direct and meaningful. Lighting by Derek Miller. Produced by Audra Arnaudon. A tight, well-crafted and provocative piece of theater.
One wonders how the current opening of relations with Cuba will compare to our warming after the Cold War. Timely stuff.