When the world is entrenched in a state of political frenzy, it’s inevitable that theater will emphatically take to the stage, creating a new forum for debate. Try as they might, a government’s attempt at censorship will only provoke artists to subvert against the regime. As a response to Communism’s tight control of Eastern Europe during the Cold War, the Neo-modernist movement emerged as an anthemic voice for the suppressed. Fast-forward to today, and the current controversy surrounding immigration reform has caused an uproar in not only the headlines, but also the arts.
“TOYS: A Dark Fairytale,” onstage at the Hudson Guild Theatre in Hollywood, draws our attention to the effects a war-torn country has on both the individual and the culture. Saviana Stanescu, the Samuel French Award-winning playwright, wrote the play over 10 years ago, and it’s still as relevant now as it was then.
Gabor Tompa, the internationally renowned director, grew up as a child of totalitarianism and says he turned to theater as “a force of opposition because its language can be metaphorical and not explicit.” Leveraging his personal experience, Tompa transports us on a surreal exploration to discover the meaning of identity as an immigrant. There were several versions of the play — some longer and with more characters — but ultimately he settled on an intimate two-person rendition, strongly performed by Julia Ubrankovics and Tunde Skovran.
The story follows two women, Clara and Shari, who share their very different experiences as immigrants in America. Clara, played by Julia, was brought to the states and adopted by a privileged family. Although she’s never been on the battleground, she is studying for her Ph.D. about extremist wars in the safety of her library.
On the other hand, Shari just fled the violent terror of her country — the same country where Clara was born. With a heavy dose of liberal guilt, Clara is hard-pressed to be liked by the refugee, Shari. At their first meeting, it’s like a bad date — Clara is tirelessly serving to please and accommodate Shari, offering her tea and a cigarette with a forced smile. But Shari’s thoughts keeps drifting back to the ruined land of her country and the family she left behind.
There’s so much contention between the two that you wonder if they can ever reach a point of acceptance. Moody jewel-tone lighting and fog machines that look like a scene out of Godard’s “Alphaville” only heighten the suspense of Shari’s aggressive antics towards Clara. Even in her own home, Clara is beginning to feel like a foreigner as Shari brings up these harrowing memories from the past. And that’s exactly the point. Reconciling the past enables us to form a stronger identity of self.
Production design is bare bones, the costuming was a little distracting with bad wigs and a misplaced DIY bridal gown, but the story and performance carry the show. This is a story that needs to be told.
—Natalie Kessel, Culture Spot LA
“TOYS” is a 70-minute play showing through Dec. 13 at the Hudson Guild Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., LA 90038. Show times are Thursday and Friday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 7 p.m. For tickets and more information, visit www.toystheplay.com
or call (323) 960-4443.