By Marcina Zaccaria
“A Brief History of the Soviet Union” is a fun, light comedy that considers the Soviet Union and its people over one hundred years in one hundred minutes.
Vladimir Zelevinsky writes a funny, poignant script. It is a Soviet Union where people spy, double deal, and keep leaders like Lenin looking good, if only at the embalmer’s office. It is a carefully shaped play, bookended with tender monologues. Although it’s not as buoyant as sketch comedy, it has moments of great levity. Long speeches about kindness and morality are truly heartfelt. It is a Soviet Union where people need to connect and find each other.
Zelevinsky’s script discusses a country inhabited and informed by very real people. Sometimes, this kind of material can become tragic and morose. This play, however, falls into none of these traps. It is a Soviet Union that has survived incredible revolutions, great fires, extraordinary political figures, and the fall of communism. Through a romance, an interrogation, a visit to a soldier’s hospital, and a spy sequence, Zelevinsky finds words to integrate the country and its people over a hundred years.
Director Jacques Stewart leads a company of actors who deliver strong, solid performances. He keeps the drama moving, without too much analysis or too much pause. Henry Dwyer, Guy Rader, and Ron Bopst prove to be an enlightened ensemble, as they talk, drink, fight, and bare their souls. Marissa Parness is empathetic as the lead, female actress. We see the history of Soviet Union through her life and her loves. All of the actors are adept with language, always feeling free to express deep emotions unlocked throughout the play. Not only does the company have a clear sense of the material, they feel free to take risks. They find illumination in the stories and bring the deeply human drama to life.
Scenic and Costume Design by Mandie DeMeskey is quite smart. It celebrates constructivism. A fantastic chair sculpture stands on stage before the show begins. The scenery also reveals the Soviet cityscape in the background. Portraits on either side of the stage glow, illuminating the people who frame the times. Becky Heisler is the Lighting and Sound Designer. She makes certain that the stunning buildings are perfectly lit throughout the show, marking the changing times. She chooses classical and contemporary music to let us know where we are in the long journey.
There were moments where the show could have taken itself a bit more seriously. However, “A Brief History of the Soviet Union” is actually quite fun and a joy to see. By the end of the show, the audience isn’t left with profound questions about the nature of Soviet Union, but rather, a quiet appreciation of a one hundred year journey that is sometimes soulful, sometimes bold, but always intriguing.
“A Brief History of the Soviet Union” will be playing at the Dorothy Strelsin Theatre at 312 West 36th Street. Performances take place until February 1st. Tickets are available by visiting hivetheatre.brownpapertickets.com.