Fringe 2019 Reviews, Part 4 (Time for One More?)
Note that the following reviews are the completely subjective opinions of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of the other members of Assaulted Fish.
“I see what you are thinking. You are thinking this is Russian play, you are thinking Chekhov, Tolstoy, so boring. And Russia. Shitty country.” So begins The Russian Play, a satire of a tragic love story that somehow also manages to be a tragic love story. A young flower girl named Sonya falls in love with a gravedigger named Piotr and they are happy for approximately 10 minutes of the play’s short 45 minute runtime. Then things go wrong. Extremely wrong. The Russian Play explores how love can destroy women while leaving the men around them relatively unscathed. All this would be extraordinarily depressing but for the central character of Sonya, who also serves as the narrator. At first cynical and wise-cracking and later, when the boundary between story and story-teller starts to break down, vulnerable and heart-breaking, she never entirely loses her defiant spirit and grim self-awareness no matter what is thrown at her.
Sonya is a tour-de-force role and Bronwyn Henderson is more than up to the task. Her open and expressive face captures all of Sonya’s conflicting emotions as she is inexorably dragged from subject to object in her own story. Dennis Virshillas and Nathen Cottell do fine supporting work as the two men in Sonya’s life. The staging is simple but effective with a single gravesite the only set piece on stage. The three actors are always on stage and move in and out of scenes with waltz-like precision. In fact, the play often feels like a stately dance, aided by the live music performed by violinist Ellen Smith and percussionist (and co-producer) Demi Pedersen.
The Russian Play may not end happily but what Russian play ever did? Because, as Sonya might say, in Russia, love is like vodka, it starts out smoothly but burns you from the inside out. — Marlene Dong