Negro Ensemble Company (www.necinc.org), America's legendary black theater company, will present "With Aaron's Arms Around Me and The Mire," an evening of two one-acts by Sophia Romma, a Russian-American playwright, both on the theme of intolerance. Both plays deal with eternal themes of intolerance from an émigré's perspective. Performances are December 3 to 19 at Cherry Lane Theatre (Studio Theatre), 38 Commerce Street.
Since our notice of November 2, there has been a change of directors on one of the plays. Now both one-acts will be directed by Negro Ensemble Company's Artistic Director, Charles Weldon.
"With Aaron's Arms Around Me" is a one-act in which two émigré women, one from Jamaica and one from Russia, are thrown together for an interview through a creative writing class at NYU. They tease out the secrets of each others' love affairs, both of which are tests of tolerance to their families, sharing the hardships of love and being young and very much alive. Tanya, the interviewer, is Russian Jewish and in love with an Italian Catholic man, for whom she has been baptized (to the agony of her parents). Madeleine, the interviewee, is Jamaican and in love with a Jewish man who is the son of a Holocaust survivor. She happened to be raised without religion, so her only ethnic "badge" is the color of her skin. To marry Aaron, she must assimilate into the closed culture of his family, in which Jewish identity is a high-stakes issue. The play portrays love, to the émigré, as a sort of universal value and asks, in a country without borders, is love actually unifying or must it submit to the harsh divisions of ethnic identity?
"The Mire" is a one-act play inspired by Anton Chekhov's 19th century short story of the same name. It spins a stark tale of a vixenish young Russian Jewish émigré, Svetlana Moiseyevna, who captures the heart of a twenty-eight year old renegade Lieutenant, James Perso Arrivederci. The Lieutenant, an Iraq veteran and dissident, visits Svetlana to collect a monetary debt she owes his brother, who coincidentally is her married ex-boyfriend. Arrivederci faces court martial for his opposition to the war and needs money to wed his poor youthful fiancée back in Corpus Christi, Texas. His brother has promised him that if the collection effort is successful, the money will be his. Svetlana speaks in riddles and veiled allusions. She is a devil of a woman who shakes him up so that he falls head over heels in love even though he fully comprehends that she is far from heavenly. Prejudice also rears its ugly head. He loves her beyond reason, yet he resents her for being Jewish.
The AWOL lieutenant pays our heroine numerous visits, finding that he is unable to escape the "Jewess's charms" and is reeled deeper and deeper into the haunting chambers of her tumultuous family life. Svetlana's grandparents provide comic relief. They are pearls of pleasure, a delightful caricature of those hilarious immigrants who rarely make it to the stage: fanatical Russian intellectuals who are ideologically conservative and obstinate against assimilation. At their Hannukah table, within the walls of the family's loony world, the hero arrives at a credible illuminating sanity, one which he had never possessed before. By the culmination of the play, the temptress Svetlana shows the Lieutenant that life is a grotesque practical joke, constantly tugging at the strings of human dignity and reason--but that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. The play is meant to be an explosively liberating, funny and maniacal assault on the banality of materialism and the hypocrisy of war, together with a celebration of unearthly, unexpected and untimely love.
"With Aaron's Arms Around Me" is a world premiere. "The Mire" was produced by the Midtown International Theater Festival as a work in progress with the title "A Sweet Word Of Advice" in July, 2010 at The Jewel Box Theater. It was directed by Maxine Kern.
"With Aaron's Arms Around Me" will be performed by Naomi McDougall Jones as Tanya and LaTonia Phipps as Madeleine. Ms. Jones played Svetlana in "A Sweet Word of Advice," the workshop predecessor to "The Mire," in July, 2010. Her casting in both Russian Jewish parts is a unifying concept of this evening.