It's not real life, but it comes close.
In Richard Nelson's two-character "Between East and West" (at the Callboard through Sunday), successful Czech actors Gregor and Erna Hasek endure the contemporary rigors of resettlement in the United States: the excitement, the wonder, the fear, the professional highs for him and lows for her--and, inexorably, a deep schism in their marriage. Playing Erna is former Russian star Larisa Eryomina, who emigrated here eight years ago--and is just beginning to scratch out an acting career.
"I'd done it there," the actress said regally, with a toss of her blond head. "I had an outstanding career, many movies and stage productions. When I left, I had four offers for leading parts. I often had three to five movies a year, usually fantasy parts. But many times they were written very primitively, and it was hard to make them interesting. The real reason to move to America was to have a new experience. Everything was accomplished there. My career was going automatically; I knew already everything about the business."
Apparently, Eryomina has never been lacking in self-possession.
"I was born in a very poor family in the south of Russia," she said briskly, "where no one believed I could be an actress. I was shy and introverted, but I loved (acting) and believed in it: I went to Moscow and won the competition among thousands of girls (for entrance to the Moscow Theatre Institute), where I studied with Stanislavsky's personal staff. Then after graduation, I got accepted in one of the best repertory companies. Right after that, I got the lead in a musical. . . . Maybe because it was so easy I didn't appreciate it."
And Hollywood was a big lure.
"You hear about Hollywood and you want to try Hollywood," she continued. "Hollywood sounds like a miracle to every actor." As for the reality, "It's not exactly what I expected. When I came here, I didn't speak English at all--and I never had time to study, because I had my family with me and there were a lot of problems with my grandparents. I had moments of not being being able to try because of being so involved in their problems. Sometimes I could have committed suicide even. There were moments like that. But I have a son (7-year-old Alan) and a family to take care of. So I didn't have the right to complain, or to suffer."
Eryomina, 30, wasn't alone in her culture shock. Her Russian-born husband was trained as a concert violinist; here "he plays sometimes, but he's making a living selling insurance." She shrugged, as if to indicate that the adjustment was easier for him. "He was a very successful violinist--played first violin in the symphony orchestra--but he wasn't a . . . star. So it's different. He's a simple person. And he loves this country so much. As for me, well, maybe later it will be better. But I became strong here. I was very spoiled before."
In the play, her character is also quite spoiled, a bossy and self-centered diva who finds herself increasingly shoved into the background as the relationship focuses more and more on her husband--and his burgeoning career. "Erna wants to be an actress, but she can't do it because of this heavy accent--plus she's afraid to try," explained Eryomina, who claims that director Pavel Cerny found this role especially for her.
"She used to be a very famous actress: Audiences carried her on their hands. After that it's very hard to start over again."
But Larisa Eryomina has. And for her, there's no turning back.
"I've heard that even those people who dreamed of going back to Russia, who were not accepted here, went back and couldn't stay even 10 days," she sniffed. "There are many actors who do the same thing, but they can't go back because they defected. I can go back. I left legally."
And on friendly terms? "No, they're not friendly, not at all. But they let you go. Anyway, why should I want to go back? My son was born here. And I am trying, trying hard. I am going out on auditions; I did some television here (including a stint on "Scarecrow and Mrs. King"). So I don't complain. I like it here. I'm a citizen. This is my country now."