“Shoot Them in the Cornfields” is the shattering tale of one Russian-Jewish family, spanning two love affairs and three generations. Initially the play held high promise. First, playwright Sophia Murashkovsky’s credentials are impressive, both professionally and personally. Murashkovsky, a graduate of the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, is a playwright/screenwriter/poet whose works have appeared on stage and screen. An émigré from Russia, this playwright has fashioned a piece which is essentially the story of her grandparents. Moreover, the production itself bears the authentic Russian stamp, with a number of its production/design staff trained at Russian institutes.
But, alas, “Shoot Them in the Cornfields” does not deliver the goods. With its flashbacks from past to present, its scenes (which may or may not be a figment of the heroine’s imagination), result in a thorough-going muddle. Even Murashkovsky’s rhymes, which are entertaining, do not help clarify the mish-mash. And the use of video, projected on a back curtain, is a clever innovation which merely adds to the confusion.
The story deals with a Jewish couple, Mikhail and Yelena, who start a factory which hires the mentally retarded. This is during the Khruschev regime. And, for both these offenses (entrepreneurship and the hiring of the retarded), they are arrested and sent to a labor camp where he will serve ten years. Years later their American granddaughter Sonya visits Russia, where she falls in love with a Russian soldier. Both grandmother and granddaughter experience similar problems with pregnancy and abortion. And both deal with life in Russia itself.
The clearest and most moving scenes focus on the grandparents, with solid, convincing performances by Lara Theodos and Charles Sprinkle. But others in the cast are far less satisfying, except for Carolyn Seiff, who plays the older Yelena with absolute authority. These three give the production its all-too-few moments of professionalism.
Given this material, “Shoot Them in the Cornfields” has the potential for an absorbing drama. It has yet to be written—and yet to be effectively produced.