"The Natasha Plays" at Charlestown Working Theater, tonight through Saturday, comes with an intriguing back story. Russian playwright Yaroslava Pulinovich is still in her early 20s, but has been produced several times in her homeland and Europe. This triptych of monologues by three different Natashas puts a spotlight on the youth of modern Russia, but at the same time it's universal, says Jennifer Johnson, one of CWT's three co-directors. Abandonment and identity, the price of celebrity, the worship of fame ... not so far from the America of reality TV, Lady Gaga and mall culture.
In "Natasha's Dream," the speaker is an orphan (Julia M. Smith, pictured) who attaches herself to an interested journalist with disastrous results. In "I Won," we hear from an upwardly mobile teen (Sarah Lloyd) who's not going to let anything interfere with her chance at fame. And in the short "Epilogue," recently added, another teen (Shannon McPhee) composes a love letter to a pop star.
"Each of the characters is named Natasha, but they are vastly different. The whole idea is that these young Russian women are products of their environment and their upbringing," she said. "It will be interesting to see how audiences correlate the same kind of themes to the American experience."
The actors are current or former masters students in the theater program at Towson University in Maryland, home to the New Russian Drama Project, and the production was developed there with The Center for International Theatre Development. Center director Philip Arnoult was aware of CWT's interest in international projects, and one thing led to another. The production is directed by Stephen Nunns, translated by John Freedman.
Of course, none of this would matter if CWT hadn't also found an audience that shares its interest. The best sign of that may be that CWT sold out three of last week's four performances of "Caesarian Section" by Poland's edgy Teatr Zar. That was a show of movement and meaning, but not especially linear. Johnson says "The Natasha Plays" is text-based narrative, more traditional in form. Despite the distance between Boston and these teenagers' lives, it should be quite accessible.
"Tons of people came to see Zar, they were very, very exciting events, made more exciting by the tornado on Wednesday night, which was their closing night. It was so crazy," Johnson said. "Weirdly and inexplicably our lights flickered...but it sort of went with the performance.
"The audience at CWT typically stays (after shows), we really try to make it an opportunity for people to talk to each other and the artists, particularly if we have artists from other countries," she said. "But it was such crazy weather, basically no one could leave. So we just were there forever, but we had a lot of wine, so that was OK."
Now that's my kind of theater.
"The Natasha Plays" runs tonight through Saturday at Charlestown Working Theater, 442 Bunker Hill Street, Charlestown. It's accessible by the Orange Line from Sullivan Station or Bus Lines #92 and #93. Tix are $10 tonight, $15-22 the rest of the week. Call 866-811-4111 or click to www.charlestownworkingtheater.org.
Photo: Jay Herzog.
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