Friday, January 30, 2009

"Look, What I Don't Understand" Closes This Weekend 2/1/09

"Look, What I Don't Understand," the solo play written and performed by Anthony Nikolchev in collaboration with the Thirteen Pocket Theater and five directors, including Yuriy Kordonskiy, closes this weekend. You can see it tonight and Saturday at 8pm, and on Sunday at 3pm, followed by a discussion about the show. The show is currently mounted at the Athenaeum Theater. Tickets cost $15 ($10 for students and seniors) and can be purchased at Ticketmaster or at the theater prior to the show.

If you like theater with substance that tackles both the madhouse history of the Soviet-ruled Eastern bloc and the harrowing experience of escaping, then be sure to see this show. The show is based on Nikolchev's retelling of his father and grandparents' immigration from Bulgaria to the U.S. in 1969, based on research conducted during a recent visit back to the homeland. The play was originally mounted at a Wesleyan University stage in Connecticut, where avid thespian Nikolchev graduated in 2008.

The Athenaeum Theater's back studio sure isn't an archetype of coziness, in fact it's rather dreary, with seats that could use a face lift, and a general atmosphere of uninviting drabness. In other words, it's the perfect setting for a play about the life under Communism. The setting of a cage and two suitcases set the scene for nuanced minimalism. And considering Nikolchev's startling dead-on performances as various characters, including Gencho Shonev, a prisoner at a communist gulag prison, The Immigrant (based on Nikolchev's father), Vasil, a spy burdened with guilt, and Grigorina (Nikolchev's grandmother), not much else is needed in terms of scenery. The acting and intense storyline speaks loud and clear.

The play starts out with the Immigrant listening to the broadcast American news on his son's radio, while waiting with his family to be granted access to the United States from detainment at an Italian refugee camp, circa 1969. The Immigrant then goes on to relive the events that explore tyranny and oppression at the hands of the Soviets and simultaneously, the particular identity crisis of leaving your homeland in the quest for a new one. Events along the journey include: Bulgaria's collaborations with the Nazis in WWII that led to being overtaken by Soviet Russia, the purging of anti-Soviet elements such as non collective farms, torture in the gulag, spying, and the family's escape from Bulgaria to the Congo on their way to America, that involved the witnessing of a hanging.

It's no surprise that Nikolchev has studied method acting, as he brilliantly assumes each character with total immersion and conviction. The dialogue is crisp and vivid, taking you on a deftly explained tour through a complex historical chapter of the 20th century. Nikolchev is an actor/writer to watch.

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