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Experimental play brings immigrant story to forefront

By Adelina Simpson
On December 11, 2012

  • INTROSPECTION. Actors contemplated their family heritages in ‘Doroga.’
  • CUTTING CARDS. The cast of ‘Doroga’ bonds over a game of cards while they each privately mull over the meaning of their homelands.

 

At some point, every moment becomes a memory. It will be the ordinary moment of serving soup to your father. It will be the extraordinary moment of leaving your first love behind at the airport. The Lost & Found Project, an experimental theatrical production, turned these black-and-white snapshots into color last Saturday night in the Carl J. Shapiro Theater of the Shapiro Campus Center through the nostalgic play, Doroga.
 
The Brandeis-Genesis Institute for Russian Jewry and the Russian Club brought the Project, composed of 10 Russian-Jewish actors all born in the former Soviet Union, to Brandeis. What followed was an ongoing conversation about memory, specifically those of Russian immigrants now living in the United States.
 
The actors drew from their own experiences and from stories family members told them about what it was like emigrating from Russia in the late twentieth century. The purpose of the play was to provide an opportunity for the actors to explore their roots in order to come up with realistic characters for the play. "It was a good excuse to talk to our families," Boris Zilberman, one of the actors, told the audience afterward.
 
Some of their families fled to Serbia, or to Ukraine, and others ventured as far as New York City.  Anna Zicer, playing a resettled grandmother in New York, depicted the frightening unknown that her ancestors faced: "What if New York decided to close for the day? What if they told me to come back next year?"
 
This is a question that each family living in America today had to confront at one point. The play encouraged the audience to ponder their own roots, too.  As Naum (played by Sergey Nagorny), the elderly owner of an old-timey shop filled with Russian antiques said, "There's no such thing as a real American." Nagorny's Naum was perhaps the most captivating part of the show: it was easy to imagine him as your very own Russian grandfather.  He appeared as the embodiment of the Old World, playing sentimental Russian folk tunes and offering sage advice to young, immigrated Russians who flocked to his store looking for a piece of home.
 
One of these shoppers was the recently engaged Marina (played by Marina Reydler). After admiring a vintage, handcrafted veil in the store, her fiancé, more in touch with the 2000s, insisted that he needed to leave for the Apple Store. There's tension involved with remembering the motherland.
 
Just ask Nikka (played by Ruvym Gilman). He returned home one day only to tell his girlfriend that he quit his job so that he could travel to Ukraine to visit his long-lost relatives.  His suitcase has been packed for a while now, he told her. When his shocked girlfriend (the relatable Jordan Gelber) asked him what he finds so damn fascinating about returning, he responded soberly, "I don't know."
 
But we understand what he means: the whole story asks why people can't be happy where they are. Indeed, many of the characters in the play have gone through double-immigration processes themselves, making the idea of home a hazy one. Nikka does not speak Russian, nor does he remember anything of where he came from, yet he feels an obligation to confront his motherland, as if it's the most worthwhile thing about him. It's reminiscent of the 2005 film Everything is Illuminated, when Elijah Wood's character journeys to a Ukrainian village with only cigarettes, maps and an old photo to find the woman who saved his grandfather's life during the Holocaust.
 
As Lista, the last remaining survivor of Trachimbrod, tells Wood's character about the idea of a homeland: "It does not exist for you. You exist for it. You have come because it exists."

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