Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Also see Susan's recent review of Evita
As the fighting continues in Ukraine, Washington's Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company is offering a fascinating, even exhilarating look at the situation from inside the besieged capital city, Kyiv. Playwright Sasha Denisova was born in Kyiv and worked successfully in Russia, fleeing the country after the hostilities began.
My Mama & the Full-Scale Invasion is the result of Denisova's ongoing online conversation with her mother, Olga Ivanovna, now 82 years old and still living in Kyiv. Misha Kachman, also the scenic designer, created the formal English translation and Kellie Mecleary, adaptor and co-dramaturg with Sonia Fernandez, shaped it to fit American vernacular speech. Director Yury Urnov, a Russian émigré, was also part of the preparation process at Woolly Mammoth and earlier at the Wilma Theater in Philadelphia, which co-produced the play.
In addition to the immediacy and wild, unexpected humor in the 90-minute work, Urnov is working with one of the Washington area's premiere actresses, Holly Twyford, playing Olga (identified in the program simply as Mother). He has crafted a genuine and affectionate rapport between the unflappable Twyford and the other cast members, Suli Holum as Sasha (or "Daughter") and Lindsay Smiling as a succession of men in their lives.
Beyond the interpersonal connections, Twyford sparkles as she navigates the everyday challenges of living under siege. She recalls how her city endured Nazi occupation and her adventures, in younger years, as a respected engineer. She knows things, like how to bring down a drone by throwing a large jar of pickles and how she would advise various world leaders on improving the situation.
Kachman has designed a kaleidoscopic, free-floating set on the wide Woolly stage; primarily a representation of Olga's Kyiv apartment, it can revolve 360 degrees to become other locations and has a solid wall on which projections (designed by Kelly Colburn) can be shown to add a documentary feel. Venus Gulbranson's lighting design smoothly bridges the gaps between the ordinary and the fantastic while also showing the physical distance between Olga and Sasha. Ivania Stack's costumes have a whimsical feel as they seem to have been conjured up by Olga's confidence in her own beliefs.
One warning note is that Woolly provides only a minimal printed program at performances, along with a QR code to access more information. This is an issue because many of the notes on the long history of Ukraine, a glossary of terms and references, and the transcript of a conversation with Denisova and Urnov refer directly to matters discussed in the play.
My Mama & the Full-Scale Invasion runs through October 8, 2023, at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, 641 D St. NW, Washington DC. For tickets and information, please call 202-393-3939 or visit www.woollymammoth.net.
By Sasha Denisova