JULY 23, 27 & 28, 2013

Marina Tsvetaeva silhouette

In "The Past is Still Ahead" by Sophia Romma, one of Russia's most ill-fated and controversial cult poets of the twentieth century, Marina Tsvetaeva, revisits the tumultuously tragic and sexy events of her life – just before succumbing to “suicide” at the hands of the Soviet Secret Police in 1941 while exiled in Siberia. 

Marina Tsvetaeva

The play is written in English by the Russian-born NY playwright Sophia Romma (who also writes as Sophia Murashkovsky) and is based on a monologue by Israeli playwright Oded Be'eri.

Its American debut was presented by The Past is Stilll Ahead, Inc. at The Studio @ Cherry Lane Theatre, NYC in 2007, directed by François Rochaix and Ms. Romma for a two-week run. That production starred Yelena Romanova, a Russian actress of theater and film, as the famous poet and featured other actors from the Mayakovsky Academic Art Theater. Subsequently, the piece was presented at Théâtre de Carouge in Geneva (2008), at the Centaur Theatre Company in Montreal, Quebec (2008) and at The Abey Theatre, Dublin (2010). The Midtown International Theatre Festival presentation will be the play's first performance with an all-American cast.

Alice Bahlke as Russian poet Marina Tsvetaeva

In the Midtown International Theatre Festival production July 23-28, 2013, the actors will be Alice Bahlke* as Marina Tsvetaeva, Inna Leytush as Marina Tsvetaeva's Mother in the afterlife and Bettina Bennett as the poet's Mother in her youth, Tosh Marks* as the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke, Grant Morenz as the Soviet NKVD Officer who interrogates Tsvetaeva, Liora Michelle as Marina's Muse, and Nuria Martinez as Sophia Parnok. Costume design is by Anastasia Glebova (of the Mayakovsky Academic Art Theatre). Lighting design is by Genadi Birushov from Russia. Sound design is by Dmitri German and set design is by award-winner Inna Bodner.

Marina Tsvetaeva

Marina Ivanovna Tsvetaeva (1892-1941), a great Russian poet of the twentieth century, was also one of Stalin's most prominent victims. Her life reads like a profound, tragic reflection of Russian suffering during the first half of the twentieth century, and her popularity is perhaps greater today than ever before. She was inspired by contemporaries like Akhmatova and Rilke, studied the philosophy of Swedenborg, and blended classical and modern poetry in a unique manner. Her whirling and staccato rhythms were forceful and original. Her lyric poems fill ten collections; the uncollected lyrics would add at least another volume. Dmitri Shostakovich set six of Tsvetaeva's poems to music.

Set in her last days in 1941, the play is an unfolding series of reflections on her life and a testament to all who suffer great loss under prejudice and oppressive regimes. The play is not specifically about her poetry, nor is it biographical. Rather it spins off the shards of the poet's shattered, dramatic life as it was destroyed by a tumultuous period in Russia's history. 

Alice Bahlke and Tosh Marks
Yelena Romanova as Marina Tsvetaeva

The playscript draws generously from her poetry and letters, including her correspondence with Rainer Maria Rilke in the summer of 1926. (Marina never actually met her cherished Rilke, but their correspondence was an escape from the political turmoil and social devastation of the Russian Revolution.) Throughout the play, Marina consults her Muse, an angelic beauty who softly sings her poetry. She also engages in dialogues with her stern, cynical mother, who ferociously grinds her fingers to the bone on a piano, perched center stage. Marina sings poetic madrigals and longs for the end of a rope to end her misery. Always in need of friends, lovers, and the company of poets, she engages in a mystical tango on stage with her raven-haired lesbian poet lover, Sophia Parnok (based on the poem "I'm glad your sickness is not of my will"), which her innocent husband, Sergey Efron, views from aside, in utter distress. In Act 2, she is interrogated by an NKVD Officer, who appears as a dark presence throughout the play, representing the horror and pressure to which Tsvetaeva was subjected in the last years of her life. 

Playwright/Director Sophia Romma, Alexander Rapoport (NKVD Officer), Yelena Romanova

Oded Be-Eri is the author of the monologue upon which this play is based. He is a prolific Israeli author, playwright, director and producer in both theater and the broadcast media. Be-Eri is founder and director of the Third Floor Theater in Jaffa, Tel-Aviv, and founder and artistic director of Ashdod Municipal Theatre. He has also been a long-term editor and presenter of radio programs about literature and arts in the Israeli Broadcasting Service. He served as chief editor at the Dani Books Publishing House and founded his own Publishing House, Mimosa. Mr. Be-Eri originally adapted the monologue upon which this play is based as a star vehicle for Yelena Romanova. His monologue was translated into English by Doreen Dor, and this was the basis for Sophia Romma's play, which was initially presented in Moscow in April.

Director François Rochaix is Founder and General Director of the Théâtre de Carouge in Geneva and a world renowned director of operas and plays. Among others, he has directed "La Traviata," "Aida," "Nabucco," "Carmen," "Cosi fan Tutti," "Parsifal," "The Turn of the Screw," "Death in Venice," "The Rake's Progress," "Pelléas et Mélisande," "Dialogues des Carmélite" and Wagner's Ring Cycle at institutions including The Grand Théâtre de Genève, The Scottish opera, Opera North, The Lyric Opera of Chicago, The Cleveland Opera, and The Seattle Opera. His dramatic credits include "Richard II," "Henry IV," "Mother Courage," "Arturo Ui," "A Doll's House," "The Game of Life" and "Thunderstorm." In Moscow, Rochaix has directed "Victor" by Vitrac and "The Event" by Nabokov. 

Playwright Sophia Romma (who previously wrote under the name Sophia Murashkovsky) emigrated with her parents from Russia in 1980. Her mother is a Ukrainian Jew and her father is a Polish Jew. Her birth name, Murashkovsky, is Polish but she officially changed it last year "because nobody could pronounce it." The name she chose, Romma, would have been close to her Patronymic name in Russian, Romanovna. She is a resident playwright of The Mayakovsky Academic Art Theatre of Moscow, where the name Quantum Verse was coined to describe her literary style. The name derives from the question "How real is the universe?" and the notion that it may contain parallel dialogues, a simple one and a metaphysical one. 

Marina Tsvetaeva

She received her MFA at NYU and her Ph.D. from the prestigious Gorky Literary Institute in Moscow. She is author of the film "Poor Liza," directed by Slava Tsukerman ("Liquid Sky") starring Oscar Winner Ben Gazzara, Oscar Winner Lee Grant and Barbora Babulova. The film adapts a classic Russian story by Nikolai Karamzin about a beautiful peasant girl who is seduced and forsaken by a young nobleman. "Poor Liza" won the Grand Prix Garnet Bracelet for best screenplay at the Gatchena Literature and Film Festival in St. Petersburg in 2000. She has had three productions at La MaMa E.T.C.: "Love, in the Eyes of Hope, Dies Last" (1997), a journey through contemporary Jewish/Russian immigration in a series of eight playlets, "Coyote, Take Me There!" (1999), a surrealistic work on the ordeal of immigration and the corruption of the American dream, and "Defenses Of Prague" (2004), a story of revenge set among the gypsies in 1968, on the brink of the Soviet invasion of Prague. In "Shoot Them in the Cornfields" (2006 at the Producers Club Theater), a fictionalized family history that time trips between World War II, The Khrushchev Reign, and the heady days of the Coup d'etat of 1991. Last season, her "Absolute Clarity," a tale of a teenage heroine, a white raven and rebellious young artist searching for love and absolution, was presented Off-Broadway at the Players Theatre. In 2005, Romma's anthology of poetry, "God and My Good" was published by the Gorky Literary Institute. In 2006 her collection of poems, "Garden of the Avant-garde" was published by Noble House. Ms. Romma has co-directed her play "Defenses of Prague" with Obie-winner and Tony Nominated playwright, Leslie Lee. She has also directed Mr. Lee's one-act play, "You're Not Here to Talk about Beethoven." In 2004, she directed Dan Simon's play "Winning" and Austin Phillips play "Back in the Day" for the Fall Drama Series at the Schomburg Center in conjunction with Frederick Douglass Creative Arts Center, where Ms. Romma instructs classes in Playwriting and Screenwriting. 

House where Marina Tsvetaeva died in 1941

Her last play was "Cabaret Émigré" (Lion Theater, 2012), in which ten Lewis Carroll-style testimonials were told as cabaret acts by a collection of émigrés, primarily Russian Jews. Her 2010 production, "With Aaron's Arms Around Me and The Mire," contained one original scenario ("With Aaron's Arms Around Me") and one loosely adapted from Chekhov ("The Mire"). It was presented by The Negro Ensemble Company, Inc. at Cherry Lane Theatre. The New York Times (Andy Webster) wrote, "Each takes a refreshing, almost sideways approach to the subject of ethnic tension." The review had particular praise for "The Mire," where a humorless lieutenant is undone by a girl named Svetlana, "who speaks in effervescent wordplay artfully derived from Chekhov, and [the Lieutenant] is ensnared in her enchantments. So is the audience."

At the Russian premiere in 2007, Profile, a prestigious Moscow art and cultural newspaper, reported that "the audience, comprised mainly of foreign ambassadors, elitist Russians, poets, singers, and artists, applauded way into the night and would not let the actors depart the stage." The reviewer (Alexander Karavaev) commended Sophia Romma's adaptation of the poetry to the stage, writing, "Marina Tsvetaeva, a poet who the Russians do not easily digest as a person but adore as a poet, is not simple to translate. Ms. Romma, who takes great liberty with Tsvetaeva's poetry, manages to capture the essence of her poems without destroying meaning." The review deemed it "pleasant and surprising" to witness such interest in a Russian poet from an Israeli author and American playwright. 


ACD Systems Digital I

Born into the upper class to an art historian father and a musician mother, Marina Ivanona Tsvetaeva was groomed by her mother to be a musician, but her defining talent was literary. Her first book of poems was published in 1910; its success brought her into the Russian literary circle. She met and married a military cadet named Sergey Yakovlevich Efron. Her love for him was obsessive, yet it did not prevent her from having affairs, including one with the poet Osip Mandelstam, which she celebrated in a collection of poems called Mileposts. At around the same time, she also had an affair with the lesbian poet Sofia Parnok, whom she addressed in a cycle of poems which at times she called "The Friend," and at other times "The Mistake."

Efron sided with the White Russians and she moved to the Crimea with him, where she wrote poems between 1918 and 1920 in praise of the White armies and their fight against Bolshevism. She was subsequently separated from him for five years, during which time she became trapped in the Moscow famine, which killed her youngest daughter, and wrote a series of political poems called The Demesne of the Swans. She also wrote several plays for a close friend, the actress Sofia Gollidey.

Since her husband had fought on the "wrong side," in 1922 she was forced to emigrate with him to Western Europe, where she created the greater part of her work. Through letters, she developed a lasting friendship with Boris Pasternak. Efron became a Soviet spy and eventually had to flee France to escape indictment for the murder of another Soviet agent. The Paris intelligentsia blamed her for his actions and turned their backs on her. She returned to Russia during the height of the Stalin terror, where her husband was arrested and executed; Marina and her family fell under a dark cloud of suspicion. She was evacuated from Moscow to the Tartar Autonomous Republic, where she hanged herself in 1941.

"The Past Is Still Ahead" premiered at the legendary Mayakovsky Academic Theater in Moscow on April 25, 2007. This is one of the major theaters in Moscow, of equal standing with the Moscow Art Theater, the Chekhov Theater of Moscow, Gorky Theater of Moscow, Savrimenik Theater, Leninsky Comsomol Theater, The Pushkin Theater, The Maly Theater and Ostrovski Theater of Moscow. The only more prominent institution in Moscow is the Bolshoi Theater. When founded in 1922, The Mayakovsky Academic Theater took over a historic building that had previously housed the Paradiz Theater in the late 19th century, hosting foreign and St. Petersburg companies and celebrities of the time, including Sarah Bernhardt and Eleanora Duse. Its credo is that theater's expressive means must renew permanently to provoke response from contemporary audiences. 

July 23 at 6:00 PM, July 27 at 2:00 PM, July 28 at 8:30 PM
The Jewel Box Theater, 312 W. 36th Street, 4th floor, NYC
Presented by Midtown International Theatre Festival
Tickets $15, box office: www.midtownfestival.org/Ovation Tix 866-811-4111.
Runs :60. 

*Actors appearing courtesy of Actors' Equity Association

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