Wednesday, November 25, 2015



Andrew Kushnir’s Wormwood is an epic drama that mixes fable-like scenarios with the gritty realism of political unrest amidst the aftermath of social and environmental upheaval. The poetic strength of the writing is reminiscent of some of Tony Kushner’s work (Slavs and Angels In America in particular) and transcends the very bleak events and images that place names like Chernobyl evoke.
photos by Cylla von Tiedemann
The eight actor ensemble brings this delicate balance of beauty and bitterness to life through vivid, moving performances that simultaneously tug at the heart strings and make spectators brutally aware of the sheer hopelessness one may lapse into in light of history’s repetitive and catastrophic nature.
Luke Humphrey as Ivan brings a convincing array of layered emotions to a central role as he epitomizes the bright-eyed optimism – diving stubbornly and charmingly into romantic idealism - that the central narrative plays with. As a young Canadian man of Ukrainian origin his identity takes on a fractured, charismatic quality as he searches for some form of truth regarding the political climate that led to the Orange Revolution of 2004 where “a million people draped in Orange in Kyiv’s Maidan Square, in peaceful protest, [called] out for their dignity after a rigged election.” *  The whole notion of fighting for one’s personal and national dignity is represented by each character as they take on individual responses to the social upheaval at hand.
Ben Campbell as the freewheeling Professor attempting to procure safety and security is a fine study in ruthlessness and heartfelt sincerity. Chala Hunter as Artemisia, in perhaps the most symbolic role, portrays a layered wonderment filled with the memory of a beloved parent who gives her a complex legacy to unravel as she comes to terms with her own personal and political position. As a child becoming a woman she is asked to free herself through symbol and metaphor from male enterprise and domination. Hunter tackles a difficult role with grace and a form of gradual awareness and powerful self-assurance.  The uninhabited island image that arises in the second act becomes a kind of feminist-oriented focal point for all that she struggles to become – and to become liberated from – without losing a sense of her own powerful yet corrupted identity.
Chala Hunter, Luke Humphrey
Nancy Palk’s ‘Housekeeper’ and Amy Keating’s ‘Daughter’ are broad, effective portraits of a kind of stock character that simultaneously imbeds and explodes stereotypes of Eastern European identity. Palk in particular effectively takes on strident, entertaining poses that evoke the fable like aspect of the drama as well as the strength that the character’s care-giving qualities demand. 

Ben Campbell, Nancy Palk, Amy Keating

Ken James Stewart in a double role as Markiyan and The Cossack contributes beautifully to the musical motif that runs throughout, and displays a fine talent for subtly crafted caricature, as well as a credible and realistic supporting foil for Ivan’s wide-eyed personal/political blunders. Victor Mishalow as the Bandurist provides onstage accompaniment adding haunting vocals and musical counterpoints that help to create that delicate balance between near fantasy-like fable and political realism.

Scott Wentworth as The Kobzar and The Doctor brings the whole narrative together as his intense, charismatic acting style and his dual character status gradually develop over two hour long acts. His seamless onstage movement from one character to the other reveals the complexities of a script that, although rich in detail and brilliantly conceived through intricate interwoven forms and ideologies, rambles somewhat in act one but recovers quickly in the second half.

Richard Rose’s detailed direction gives Camellia Koo’s spare and evocative dual-purpose set/backdrop a prime role in the creation of the symbolic garden. This allows the story to come full circle, revealing the doubling as a gesture toward the idea that no one is who we think they may be - nor who they think they may be. Everyone has a double agenda/identity that they may never fully realize.
Amy Keating, Nancy Palk, Luke Humphrey

In a world of repeated nuclear reactor disaster, run on wars morphing into new interminable combat, the hope at the end of the play – at the beginning and end of each new century – becomes the dream that history’s repetitive nature may in some small way rejuvenate, through reiteration, aspects of humanity. Kushnir has crafted beautiful and moving speeches late in the second act that give glimmers of hope through the possibility that nature may ultimately rise above it all. Wormwood makes no promises for the future, but it does explode stereotypes, turns them inside out, and serves it all up as a way of peeling away layers of idealism, personal perception, and culturally constructed misinformation in order to make some sense of a mind boggling past.




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