The human, emigrant condition is examined in "Cabaret Émigré," a new play by Sophia Romma, directed by Charles Weldon, to be presented by the Negro Ensemble Company from November 2 to 18 at the Lion Theater, Theater Row. The play contains ten Lewis Carroll-style testimonials that are told as cabaret acts by a collection of émigrés who are primarily Russian Jews like Romma herself, as well as émigrés from Latin America and Africa. All of them have no other motive than to entertain each other and their resulting acts are outrageous and macabre, like a journey Down The Rabbit hole.
The play is based on interviews that Romma conducted with other émigrés last October in preparation for a play she was drafting for the Women's Initiative (which she founded) of the Dramatists Guild. She started by interviewing people she knew, who were mostly performers. These included young Russian and Ukrainian immigrants, a Mexican friend from high school, and a Nigerian man she had gone to college with, all of whom referred more émigrés with tales. The stories that appeared presented a similar theme: that of a poet who is prisoner of a soulless existence, suspended in time. It was in keeping with the nature of the first group she interviewed that Romma set the play in a cabaret, where émigrés would amuse each other with stories that sail off into bizarre reflections from the characters' family histories and are scripted in Quantum Verse.
Most of the skits are autobiographical, presenting distorted family histories and twisted memories of those who left their homelands behind. The émigré experience is one of dislocation, to which Ms. Romma can testify, having emigrated with her mother from Moscow in 1979.
In all of her plays, Ms. Romma questions the reality of what is seemingly obvious in our human existence. There is weirdness and absurdity at play which reigns in the quantum universe, as it does in her verse. The play rhymes, but in non sequiturs. There is repartee of indirect associations. Puns are abundant, often extracted into sexual insults. Characters speak in inappropriate Americanisms (like, "Do you accept God's will for you?" "Yes, Holy Roller-ness, I most certainly do.") Ms. Romma employs various languages (Russian, German, Yiddish and French) which are sprinkled throughout the play in order to add flavor to an eclectic cultural presence within Cabaret Émigré.
Director Charles Weldon, Artistic Director of The Negro Ensemble, saw the reading of "Cabaret Émigré" (then called "Doroga") at the Dramatist's Guild and was drawn to the play's universal theme of being an unwelcome stranger in a strange land. In the winter of 2010, at The Cherry Lane Theater, he directed "With Aaron's Arms Around Me and The Mire," an evening of two one-acts by Sophia Romma, both of which dealt with themes of intolerance from an émigré's perspective.
In presenting plays by Sophia Romma, The Negro Ensemble Company continues its mission to explore and expose intolerance and bigotry. In the past, the focus has been on intolerance that primarily affects the African America community, using characters in various plays as spokespersons for a whole society. Intolerance and bigotry exist, however, within ethnic groups and cultures themselves, to equally damaging degrees.
"Cabaret Émigré" will be acted by Adriana Sananes, Carolyn Seiff, Allan Mirchin, Randy Schein, Walter Krochmal, Tosh Marks, Grant Morenz, Gwenevere Sisco, Dana Pelevine, Bettina Bennett and DeLance Minefee. Dramaturg is Maxine Kern. Set design is by Dara Wishingrad. Music is composed by Lev Zhurbin. Choreography by Leslie Dockery. Costume design is by Lora Jackson. Lighting design is by Ves Weaver, and Sound design by Tommy Renino.