BY MICHAEL SOMMERS
OFF BROADWAY REVIEW
Under the auspices of La MaMa and the Public Theater, Belarus Free Theatre opened its repertory season of three plays on Monday.
Founded in 2005, the company presented politically and socially-conscious shows in Minsk in spite of governmental repression. They have been here in the states since late 2010, reportedly unable to go home to Belarus for fear of persecution. In the meantime, they’re in residence at La Mama, performing in repertory “Being Harold Pinter,” “Zone of Silence” and “Discover Love.”
Due to the current spring rush of competing attractions, I had the chance to see only “Discover Love.”
For much of its 70-minute length, this 2008 play by director Nikolai Khalezin and Natalia Koliada offers a woman’s deceptively affectionate account of growing up in Belarus.
Narrated by the central character of Ira – the play is based on the times of one Irina Krasovskaya – the story swiftly invokes bittersweet memories of Soviet life during the 1950s-60s. Grandma’s stories, an absent father, the neighbors, popular songs, school, radio deejays, first crushes – these experiences are obviously the same-but-different for Baby Boomers all over the world.
When Ira first meets her future husband Tolya, the narrative breaks for a dizzying tango between actors Marina Yurevich and Oleg Sidorchik, who portray the couple, which leaves them breathless with love.
From there, Ira describes incidents from their near-25 year marriage as Tolya becomes a successful businessman. A mere sentence mentions that Tolya contributes money to liberal political causes. By 1999, the couple has two children in college, an affluent lifestyle and a relatively contented union.
“And then I was killed,” announces Tolya abruptly.
The remainder of the drama involves Ira’s nightmarish account of her husband’s kidnapping and unsolved murder. The direct narrative breaks once again as Sidorchik’s Tolya violently reacts to a brutal beating from an invisible death squad. The circumstances of Tolya’s death remain unexplained but the playwrights link them to thousands of similar cases in Belarus and other countries around the globe.
The play rapidly concludes with a short documentary film on the subject of enforced disappearances and a sorrowful “pray for us” litany regarding human rights violations.
Performed in Russian with a projected American translation, “Discover Love” is a fluently written and enacted piece. Intending to drive home the horror of such atrocities, the play nicely reflects the ordinary lives that people everywhere share in western society. While the drama ends in a didactic coda, it mostly offers a purposefully cozy story of a woman’s personal journey that unexpectedly turns tragic.
A petite blond actress, Yurevich companionably portrays Ira as a pert individual who matures with the passage of years. Depicting Tolya as a serious but affectionate soul, Sidorchik capably plays a number of other characters in Ira’s life, as does Pavel Gorodnitski, a young actor with a mobile face.
Projected images enliven the show’s otherwise minimal design. A mix of flavorful music created by Laur Biarzhanin enhances the play’s changing variety of moods. The confident performances and Khalezin’s smooth production of “Discover Love” are as much a pleasure to witness as the story they warmly relate ultimately chills the blood.
“Discover Love” runs in repertory with “Being Harold Pinter” and “Zone of Silence” through May 15 at La MaMa, 66 E. 4th St., New York. Call (212) 475-7710 or visit www.publictheater.org.