Ekaterina Dorofeyva said she would love to return to the Soviet Union, armed with a parrot that talks.
"But," she said, shaking her head, "they'd never let me in with one."
So, she settled for a 3-foot-high ceramic parrot, which she was showing off Monday afternoon while sunning herself by the pool at the Clarion Hotel at Balboa Park, on El Cajon Boulevard. Dorofeyva had bought the bird at a San Diego pet store.
"It's my first purchase in America!" she said with a bright smile. "It's so exotic. I love it. There's no way I could buy such a thing back home."
Dorofeyva is part of the lighting crew for "Brothers and Sisters," the acclaimed Soviet play that opened Sunday at the Old Globe Theatre. "Brothers and Sisters" is among the featured events in the three-week Soviet arts festival. Its San Diego stop marks its American premiere.
Dorofeyva said the bird looms as a symbol of a long-awaited journey to North America. For many of the Soviet artists visiting San Diego, the arts festival marks a first trip to America--a country many thought they would never see.
Shopping is high on everyone's agenda, especially for items that can't be had--or had without difficulty--in the Spartan shops of Leningrad and Moscow.
Despite availability and easy access, some say the abundance and diversity of American goods is overwhelming and intimidating, even frightening. Nevertheless, some of the artists are stocking up on items they just can't get--whether it's a parrot that doesn't talk, a 4-wheel-drive Jeep, pineapples by the box-load, or cat food.
Some say they make more than one trip to a market before buying anything, just to let the experience settle in.
Donald Gale, general manager of the Clarion, said he took some of the "Brothers and Sisters" crew to a nearby Lucky supermarket, where the effects were immediate and dramatic.
"When they walked in the front door--and this was just a food store, mind you--they looked like a bunch of kids who had just entered Toys 'R Us for the first time," Gale said. "Their jaws dropped. They kept saying, 'We don't have anything like this. This is amazing .'
"Pet food, for instance, is nonexistent in the Soviet Union. They were amazed by the bars of soap, by the diversity and abundance of everything. One of the stars said to me, and he wasn't exaggerating, 'Thank you for letting me come to Paradise.' "
Malcolm McDonald is one of three interpreters hired by the Old Globe to work full time with the cast and crew. As a result, he has gotten to know some of them quite well. He figured out pretty fast that they love fruit.
Ever tried to buy pineapple in the Soviet Union? Apparently, it's not easy.
McDonald said the Soviets seem awe-struck by shelf upon shelf of ripe, succulent fruit . . . oranges, apples, strawberries, kiwis, bananas, and, of course, their favorite from Hawaii.
"At the market, Oleg Kosloz, one of the lighting designers, turned to one of the women in the crew and said, 'Do you think we could ever do this in Leningrad?' Even in Georgia, where fruit is plentiful by Soviet standards, it's nothing like it is here," McDonald said.
Dmitry Grankin, 12, one of several children in the show, said he was taken by the museums and architecture of San Diego but felt its greatest asset by far, which he talked about with a dreamlike expression, was the ocean.
Sonia Betekhtina, 8, quickly agreed.
"I want to spend hours touring the whole city, especially the areas near the ocean," she said.
"Most of all, I like how we've been welcomed," said Natasha Sokolova, 14. "The people of San Diego are very friendly, incredibly warm."
On Monday, one night after the opening of a show that critics are gushing over, the Soviet cast said positive impressions of San Diego go far beyond pineapple and parrots.
They compared the prolonged standing ovation and numerous outbursts of applause Sunday night at the Old Globe with the eerily quiet, reserved nature of the Japanese. "Brothers and Sisters" played in Tokyo before coming to San Diego.
"Throughout the entire show, the reaction (Sunday) was terrific," said Pyotr Semak, who plays the male lead in "Brothers and Sisters." "The human rapport we felt with the audience never wavered."
Semak said he had long admired American movies and American actors, particularly the work of Jack Nicholson, whom he would love to meet.
Aleksei Porai-Koshits, the technical director, said Soviets were developing a stronger, more intense curiosity about all aspects of American culture. He said he and his wife hope to buy "lots of clothes" in the United States for their 20-year-old son and to feed his appetite for American rock 'n' roll. They're taking back suitcases full of cassettes.
"He also wants--what is it?--Reebok shoes," Porai-Koshits said.
Igor Ivanov, one of the actors in the play, said through Lana Berkovich, one of the interpreters, that he hopes to buy a Jeep in the States and ship it back to Leningrad.
Porai-Koshits said that, regardless of the crew's curiosity about the United States, they all find its abundance something that one must adjust to. Unlike Americans, they cannot take it for granted.