‘novaya zemlya or a strange new land’
By Marcina Zaccaria
A Winner of Best Play at the Downtown Urban Theatre Festival, ‘novaya zemlya or a strange new land’ makes a strong showing at this year’s New York International Fringe Festival.
Lost in Vodka and hard times, the past eventually crumbles while a new road is paved ahead. As a truck driver, a poet, and a supernatural being from Russian folklore share their stories on stage, themes of degradation of society and the mysticism of the Forest are juxtaposed with everyday conversations about necessity and survival.
Goods from the Black Market are passed back and forth as people from the town decide if they will leave their homeland and whether it might be under the cover of night. As revolvers are placed on the table, it looks like a Chekhov scene from Country Life. The journey gets more interesting as you look at it within the context of the mushroom clouds of Chernobyl nearby. While considering Novaya Zemlya, the name of an actual testing facility located on the archipelago of islands in Northwest Russia, we are asked what daily life is in the context of a testing facility that saw 132 nuclear weapons tested from 1955 to the fall of the Soviet Union in 1990.
Popov, Sergei, Elena, Raina, Boris, Serge, and Dascha are an interesting group. Are they part of a family of nothings? Self-defined workers that find their place in the society, each of the characters holds their place on the stage. The content of their speech is rich, complex, and easy to keep up with. Their philosophical views are not trite or falsely labored. They seem flawed and sincere, while celebrating their traditions and rituals. As we see old forms blend with new, the images onstage are neither too smart nor too quick. Each scene is introduced by supertitles from a video projector, giving the play an easy structure to follow.
The smart company of seasoned actors make their arguments fresh and easy to digest. Great attention is paid to the words, the pace, and the meaning. As a company, they are smooth, competent, and prepared. Stuart Marshall as Boris and Thami Moscovici as Elena provide a coherent framing. The importance of their table and their arguments are clear from the beginning of the play until the end. Alisa Glembotski, as Raina, is the raw and glamorous love interest of Serge, played by Kevin Russo. Clever staging allows surprising entrances and exits, and sheds light on how the characters will innovate within the context of their world.
As one of the crosses to the dream of the United States, flashback sequences ask why they left their old world. Was it socio-political strife? Was it the need for lucrative and fulfilling work? Was it tragic boredom and the dream of something better? As they drop their baggage, Writer Mila Golubov gives them the language to discuss their Mother Country and the New World. Their strange land, typified by oversized, nuclear strawberries, too large and brightly colored, represents their old country blasted into a new stratosphere.
‘novaya zemlya or a strange new land’ is playing at Clemente Soto Velez, 107 Suffolk Street, as part of The New York International Fringe Festival until Friday, August 23rd. Tickets are available by calling 866.468.7619 or by visiting the website at www.FringeNYC.org.