In the wake of Week Four’s conservations on “Russia and the West,” Chautauqua Theater Company invites theatergoers to explore St. Petersburg circa 1992 with Untitled Russia Play, which tells the story of two men trying to adapt to their new lives after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Lauren Yee’s comedy about art, love and advertising is the first New Play Workshop of CTC’s 2018 season. Untitled Russia Play opens with a performance at 8 p.m. Monday, July 30, in Bratton Theater and runs through Wednesday, Aug. 1.
As she continues to mull over the play’s final title, Yee will work with director Nicholas Avila to refine the script based on what happens on Bratton’s stage. Because the play is still in development, Chautauquans can expect to see differences among Untitled Russia Play’s three performances. The same is true for Charly Evon Simpson’s Jump, which runs Thursday, Aug. 2, to Saturday Aug. 4.
In addition to hearing plays in progress, audience members will be exposed to the work of CTC’s four design fellows. Having each shadowed two experienced artists in their respective fields who designed the season’s mainstage productions, the fellows applied the lessons they’ve learned in the designs for both New Play Workshops.
Costume design fellow Jennifer Clark said that the actors will not wear complete costumes, but their clothes will help the audience identify each play’s setting.
“The big thing about the NPWs is that we are trying to figure out what gesture we can make with the costume that really plants us in the time, really shows us who the character is without being able to fully costume the characters,” Clark said. “We have to be able to figure out where we are and who these characters are without being able to give them necessarily a head-to-toe look.”
To inform her designs for Untitled Russia Play, Clark researched how actual Russians dressed in the ’90s.
“What I really like to do is look at as many images as I can get my hands on of actual people in the time,” Clark said. “(I’m) looking at what color palettes are appropriate for the time period, and also what sort of patterns were people wearing and materials.”
In his research for Untitled Russia Play, sound design fellow Jeff Sherwood and his team focused on how American capitalism influenced Russia’s traditional music.
“We’re trying to explore what old Russia sounds like and what new, Westernized Russia sounds like,” he said. “We’re listening to ’80s and ’90s American rock music, but also Russian folk songs.”
Scenic design fellow Samuel Keamy-Minor said that he is excited to work with the playwrights and directors, as well as with lighting design fellow Mextly Almeda, a friend and frequent collaborator at University of San Diego.
“It’s really fun working with Mextly because we’ve done a lot together now,” Keamy-Minor said. “I think Mextly’s really accommodating in the room and is very relaxed, and I think that’s always something that I appreciate because I am usually the one in the room who is like, ‘Let’s get this done,’ and she’s usually the one in the room who is like, ‘It will get figured out.’ I think that’s a good balance.”
Sherwood said that although the week’s first New Play Workshop takes place in Russia, its capitalistic themes directly relate to a modern American audience that struggles with the freedom of choice.
“There’s a million different brands of toothpaste we could select,” Sherwood said. “There’s also themes of identity and what it means to be a Russian, what it means to be an American and the Western influence on that culture.”