In "The Past is Still Ahead" by Sophia Romma, one of Russia's most ill-fated and controversial cult poets of the twentieth century, Marina Tsvetaeva, revisits the tumultuously tragic and sexy events of her life – just before succumbing to “suicide” at the hands of the Soviet Secret Police in 1941 while exiled in Siberia.
The play is written in English by the
Russian-born NY playwright Sophia Romma (who also writes as Sophia
Murashkovsky) and is based on a monologue by Israeli playwright
In the Midtown International Theatre Festival production July 23-28, 2013, the actors will be Alice Bahlke* as Marina Tsvetaeva, Inna Leytush as Marina Tsvetaeva's Mother in the afterlife and Bettina Bennett as the poet's Mother in her youth, Tosh Marks* as the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke, Grant Morenz as the Soviet NKVD Officer who interrogates Tsvetaeva, Liora Michelle as Marina's Muse, and Nuria Martinez as Sophia Parnok. Costume design is by Anastasia Glebova (of the Mayakovsky Academic Art Theatre). Lighting design is by Genadi Birushov from Russia. Sound design is by Dmitri German and set design is by award-winner Inna Bodner.
Marina Ivanovna Tsvetaeva (1892-1941),
a great Russian poet of the twentieth century, was also one of Stalin's
most prominent victims. Her life reads like a profound, tragic reflection
of Russian suffering during the first half of the twentieth century, and
her popularity is perhaps greater today than ever before. She was inspired
by contemporaries like Akhmatova and Rilke, studied the philosophy of
Swedenborg, and blended classical and modern poetry in a unique manner.
Her whirling and staccato rhythms were forceful and original. Her lyric
poems fill ten collections; the uncollected lyrics would add at least
another volume. Dmitri Shostakovich set six of Tsvetaeva's poems to music.
The playscript draws generously from her poetry and letters, including her correspondence with Rainer Maria Rilke in the summer of 1926. (Marina never actually met her cherished Rilke, but their correspondence was an escape from the political turmoil and social devastation of the Russian Revolution.) Throughout the play, Marina consults her Muse, an angelic beauty who softly sings her poetry. She also engages in dialogues with her stern, cynical mother, who ferociously grinds her fingers to the bone on a piano, perched center stage. Marina sings poetic madrigals and longs for the end of a rope to end her misery. Always in need of friends, lovers, and the company of poets, she engages in a mystical tango on stage with her raven-haired lesbian poet lover, Sophia Parnok (based on the poem "I'm glad your sickness is not of my will"), which her innocent husband, Sergey Efron, views from aside, in utter distress. In Act 2, she is interrogated by an NKVD Officer, who appears as a dark presence throughout the play, representing the horror and pressure to which Tsvetaeva was subjected in the last years of her life.
Oded Be-Eri is the author
of the monologue upon which this play is based. He is a prolific Israeli
author, playwright, director and producer in both theater and the broadcast
media. Be-Eri is founder and director of the Third Floor Theater in Jaffa,
Tel-Aviv, and founder and artistic director of Ashdod Municipal Theatre.
He has also been a long-term editor and presenter of radio programs about
literature and arts in the Israeli Broadcasting Service. He served as
chief editor at the Dani Books Publishing House and founded his own Publishing
House, Mimosa. Mr. Be-Eri originally adapted the monologue upon which
this play is based as a star vehicle for Yelena Romanova. His monologue
was translated into English by Doreen Dor, and this was the basis for
Sophia Romma's play, which was initially presented in Moscow in April.
She received her MFA at NYU and her Ph.D. from the prestigious Gorky Literary Institute in Moscow. She is author of the film "Poor Liza," directed by Slava Tsukerman ("Liquid Sky") starring Oscar Winner Ben Gazzara, Oscar Winner Lee Grant and Barbora Babulova. The film adapts a classic Russian story by Nikolai Karamzin about a beautiful peasant girl who is seduced and forsaken by a young nobleman. "Poor Liza" won the Grand Prix Garnet Bracelet for best screenplay at the Gatchena Literature and Film Festival in St. Petersburg in 2000. She has had three productions at La MaMa E.T.C.: "Love, in the Eyes of Hope, Dies Last" (1997), a journey through contemporary Jewish/Russian immigration in a series of eight playlets, "Coyote, Take Me There!" (1999), a surrealistic work on the ordeal of immigration and the corruption of the American dream, and "Defenses Of Prague" (2004), a story of revenge set among the gypsies in 1968, on the brink of the Soviet invasion of Prague. In "Shoot Them in the Cornfields" (2006 at the Producers Club Theater), a fictionalized family history that time trips between World War II, The Khrushchev Reign, and the heady days of the Coup d'etat of 1991. Last season, her "Absolute Clarity," a tale of a teenage heroine, a white raven and rebellious young artist searching for love and absolution, was presented Off-Broadway at the Players Theatre. In 2005, Romma's anthology of poetry, "God and My Good" was published by the Gorky Literary Institute. In 2006 her collection of poems, "Garden of the Avant-garde" was published by Noble House. Ms. Romma has co-directed her play "Defenses of Prague" with Obie-winner and Tony Nominated playwright, Leslie Lee. She has also directed Mr. Lee's one-act play, "You're Not Here to Talk about Beethoven." In 2004, she directed Dan Simon's play "Winning" and Austin Phillips play "Back in the Day" for the Fall Drama Series at the Schomburg Center in conjunction with Frederick Douglass Creative Arts Center, where Ms. Romma instructs classes in Playwriting and Screenwriting.
Her last play was "Cabaret Émigré" (Lion Theater, 2012), in which ten Lewis Carroll-style testimonials were told as cabaret acts by a collection of émigrés, primarily Russian Jews. Her 2010 production, "With Aaron's Arms Around Me and The Mire," contained one original scenario ("With Aaron's Arms Around Me") and one loosely adapted from Chekhov ("The Mire"). It was presented by The Negro Ensemble Company, Inc. at Cherry Lane Theatre. The New York Times (Andy Webster) wrote, "Each takes a refreshing, almost sideways approach to the subject of ethnic tension." The review had particular praise for "The Mire," where a humorless lieutenant is undone by a girl named Svetlana, "who speaks in effervescent wordplay artfully derived from Chekhov, and [the Lieutenant] is ensnared in her enchantments. So is the audience."
At the Russian premiere in 2007, Profile,
a prestigious Moscow art and cultural newspaper, reported that "the
audience, comprised mainly of foreign ambassadors, elitist Russians, poets,
singers, and artists, applauded way into the night and would not let the
actors depart the stage." The reviewer (Alexander Karavaev) commended
Sophia Romma's adaptation of the poetry to the stage, writing, "Marina
Tsvetaeva, a poet who the Russians do not easily digest as a person but
adore as a poet, is not simple to translate. Ms. Romma, who takes great
liberty with Tsvetaeva's poetry, manages to capture the essence of her
poems without destroying meaning." The review deemed it "pleasant
and surprising" to witness such interest in a Russian poet from an
Israeli author and American playwright.
Born into the upper class to an art
historian father and a musician mother, Marina Ivanona Tsvetaeva was groomed
by her mother to be a musician, but her defining talent was literary.
Her first book of poems was published in 1910; its success brought her
into the Russian literary circle. She met and married a military cadet
named Sergey Yakovlevich Efron. Her love for him was obsessive, yet it
did not prevent her from having affairs, including one with the poet Osip
Mandelstam, which she celebrated in a collection of poems called Mileposts.
At around the same time, she also had an affair with the lesbian poet
Sofia Parnok, whom she addressed in a cycle of poems which at times she
called "The Friend," and at other times "The Mistake."
"The Past Is Still Ahead" premiered at the legendary Mayakovsky Academic Theater in Moscow on April 25, 2007. This is one of the major theaters in Moscow, of equal standing with the Moscow Art Theater, the Chekhov Theater of Moscow, Gorky Theater of Moscow, Savrimenik Theater, Leninsky Comsomol Theater, The Pushkin Theater, The Maly Theater and Ostrovski Theater of Moscow. The only more prominent institution in Moscow is the Bolshoi Theater. When founded in 1922, The Mayakovsky Academic Theater took over a historic building that had previously housed the Paradiz Theater in the late 19th century, hosting foreign and St. Petersburg companies and celebrities of the time, including Sarah Bernhardt and Eleanora Duse. Its credo is that theater's expressive means must renew permanently to provoke response from contemporary audiences.
*Actors appearing courtesy of Actors' Equity Association
CONTACT SOPHIA MURASHKOVSKY/ROMMA
For press information or press photos, please contact: Jonathan Slaff, (212) 924-0496.