Stephanie and I attended a play online called *State vs. Natasha Banina,* presented by Arlekin Players Theatre. Stephanie told me about it, it was free, what else was I doing? FYI the show is playing again tomorrow (Weds 10/14), I encourage you to see it. Like I said, it's free, but it requires registration. Go to this link if you're interested:
Here's a trailer for the show:
It was done on Zoom, with 220 people in the audience. We were the jurors in a case of a 16-year old girl on trial for attempted manslaughter. We filled out a juror questionnaire to start the process, questions like:
Were you teased in school?
Would you say you were raised in a poor family?
Are you an immigrant, or were you raised by immigrants?
Have you formulated an opinion on Russian adoption?
The play was more or less a one-woman show starring Darya Denisova, based on the play *Natasha’s Dream* by Yaroslava Pulinovich. The show was a triumph of design and personality over content. The writing was not very good but they added some cool double exposure cinematic effects and some super creepy toy piano music. Note to self: when in doubt, creepy toy piano music is always effective. And Denisova was extraordinary as Banina, she gave a startling, unglamorous, off kilter performance.
Banina’s opening monologue was interrupted by a cool Zoom-specific moment. Natasha said that a guy asked her if she had a dream. Then a pop-up box appeared on the screen, asking me, “Do you have a dream?” Of course I answered Yes. Then we got the results of that survey, it looked like about 80% of the attendees had a dream. I feel bad for the other 20%, don’t you?
Natasha met her boyfriend about halfway through the show, and why was he represented by an astronaut? Does it matter? She drew a faucet on the wall and an animation of red hearts started dripping out of the faucet, that was beautiful. Later she told the story of getting a letter from her mother when she was a little girl (was her mother in prison?) and her mother wrote, “I love you” in the letter. A line of text came up on the screen, written in Cyrillic. I guess we can assume it said, “I love you,” right? This line of text duplicated the spun around from the center point, like a Spirograph drawing.
The end of the show had an intense cumulative impact, I guess we were led to care about Natasha all along. “I didn’t want her to go into coma, I wanted a bridal veil and chocolate candies!” Yes, I fell for that. Just a little bit. The jury’s verdict: 55% found her guilty, 45% not guilty. Stephanie and I didn’t vote the same way, but I won’t tell you who voted what, that would be indiscreet.
A post-performance Q&A was led by Corinna da Fonseca-Wolheim. Director Igor Golyak said that the point of the play is how quick we are to pass judgment on people. Yes, she is guilty, but what is the legal system of the world she comes from? He said that the play had been done about 30 times and the only performance where she was found not guilty was a performance where the audience was primarily made of people who came from immigrant descent. Fascinating!
Sherry Leibowitz, a member of the audience who’s a criminal defense lawyer, said that in a real trial we would have many more facts and the jury would be given more explicit instructions. She also said in a trial like this the verdict would need to be unanimous, which it clearly wasn’t in this case.
One of the audience members asked Darya if she felt a difference between performing for a live audience in the theater and performing for a live audience online. She said she was shocked that there wasn’t any difference. She felt the same connection to the audience, she could see the faces of the people in the audience, if the attendees left their videos on. She said she’s looking forward to going back to performances in the theater but is thrilled to be performing in this format.
My final verdict: I want to see Denisova and Golyak do another project, a really good piece of writing. But please, not Chekhov!