City Theatre To Welcome Slovo. Theater Group Performance Of ‘Mothermotherland’
Artistic residency sheds light on Ukrainian culture, suppression and resiliency.
Playwright and producer Audrey Rose Dégez has written a script that sheds light on decades of cultural suppression in Ukraine, misconceptions of Ukrainian culture and the resiliency of its residents.
Her Pittsburgh-based artistic residency, Slovo. Theater Group, features professional actors from Kharkiv, a city in northeast Ukraine. The group, partnering with the World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh, will perform the play, “Mothermotherland,” at 3 p.m. this Saturday, Jan. 7, at City Theatre, 1300 Bingham St. in the South Side.
Reserve your free spots by noon Friday, Jan. 6, for the special dress rehearsal performance. The 6 p.m. show has already sold out.
“Mothermotherland” explores motherland, maternity and self through the lens of the 1924 short story “I am (a Romantic)” by Ukrainian writer Mykola Khvylovy, a description of the show reads.
The performance is based on the artists’ personal experiences, the war in Ukraine, and takes inspiration from Mykoly Khyvylovy’s 1924 novella “I am (a Romantic),” where the head of the local Cheka, a communist law enforcement agency, must decide whether or not to sentence his mother to death in the name of the ideals of the commune.
Performing this weekend in Pittsburgh are: Dégez, her 11-month-old daughter, Lili Maritchka Dégez, Yuliia Linnik, Daria Holovchanska, Olesia Zakharova and Veronika Shuster.
The troupe has performed the show at the Kennedy Center in D.C., and will next travel to Manhattan, to perform at The A.R.T./New York Theatres. Dégez promises “Mothermotherland” will be taken back to Kharkiv to be presented in “its motherland” as soon as it’s safe.
Dégez grew up near Crafton. She began studying performance while attending Rutgers University in New Jersey. However, a car accident in 2017 prompted her to pursue acting and playwriting full time.
Dégez eventually moved to Paris, where she studied at l’école internationale de théâtre Jacques Lecoq. There she met Mykola Naboka of Kharkiv, who recently helped her cast “Mothermotherland.”
“I originally wanted to spend two months in Kharkiv to do this project,” explains Dégez. “When the invasion happened in February and it became too dangerous to go there, I knew this still needed to happen.”
Dégez, whose ancestors hail from Ukraine, says Pittsburgh native and Hollywood producer Jimmy Miller funded the seed money to bring the artist residency to Pittsburgh. Funds from other investors, such as coLAB Arts in New Brunswick, New Jersey, grants and assistance from City of Asylum in Pittsburgh, also helped to bring her vision to fruition.
“With their help, we were able to bring Ukrainian actors to Pittsburgh and escape an area where their hometowns were being bombed,” she says.
Dégez notes City of Asylum is filming Saturday’s performance and will do a screening of the show in February with a virtual question-and-answer session with the actors a year after Russia invaded Ukraine.
“Ukraine has experienced systemic cultural suppression for 100 years,” she adds. “We are promoting Ukrainian culture. They have been under the Russian thumb for 100 years. This current war actually started in 2014; it was a cold war for several years until February’s invasions. The silver lining, if there can be one, is that it has caused the world to open their eyes. Ukraine is a country, there are real people that live there and they are being bullied. I’ve met people who didn’t know where Ukraine was. People are now curious and discovering what they didn’t know existed, and I think that’s very powerful.”
Performer Olesia Zakharova said she feels her work with Slovo. Theater Group is useful.
“I feel it is important to fight on the cultural front,” she says. “I don’t have a lot of courage to go to the actual battlefield, but I feel I can do something for my country in my field.”
She adds they hope audiences will begin to understand the cultural suppression the people of Ukraine have experienced for decades with the performance.
“It also conveys the important message of individual power. Every individual has the power to change things. When they meet each other and do things together, it can change big things.”
Dégez stresses “Mothermotherland” is not about pity.
“Ukrainians are strong and resilient, and have been able to adapt and continue working despite extraordinary circumstances, and I think that’s very powerful.”