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Ukrainian Playwrights Under Siege at Voices Festival Productions
How can theater respond swiftly in times of war? Voices Festival Productions, a new company under the leadership of A. Lorraine Robinson and Ari Roth is answering that question with its inaugural event, Ukrainian Playwrights Under Siege, a virtual reading in collaboration with the Arts Club of Washington. (In November 2020, Roth resigned from Mosaic Theater after staff complained that he prioritized White leadership over BIPOC artists.) The project is a local iteration of the Worldwide Ukrainian Play Readings project, initiated by critic and translator John Freedman, who began sharing Ukrainian plays over a mailing list. Robinson is directing a cast of Hanna Bondarewska, Aakhu Freeman, and Lisa Hodsoll in four plays, which were selected from 15 works the crew read. Yelena Astasyeva‘s A Dictionary of Emotions In Wartime offers up the playwright’s own experiences as definitions for states including “fear,” “panic,” and “hunger.” The play occasionally breaks from first-person narrative to include text messages between peers, including a Russian friend who can only conceive of the war in economic terms. Our Children by Natasha Blok is similarly personal, focusing on a mother trying to stay in touch with her family as her ex-husband transports their youngest children abroad, and she messages with her eldest son about troop movements. In Andriy Bondarenko‘s Peace and Tranquility, the narrator attempts to retreat from the war to his idyllic childhood only to go too far: into a family history of Soviet Gulags, World War II, and the Holodomor, the 1932 famine engineered by Joseph Stalin that killed up to five million Ukrainians by starvation. In stark contrast, the longest play on the bill, Neda Nezhdana‘s He Who Opens the Door, is a morbidly absurdist comedy. A dead morgue worker and Victoria, one of the corpses in her charge, speculate on what events above ground may have brought them to their deaths. Though written in 1999, it is oddly prescient, with its suggestion of a war with Russia, and fears that Chernobyl might be blown up again. Ukrainian Playwrights Under Siege will be performed at 7 p.m. on May 5. Virtual. voicesfestivalproductions.com. Free.