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Theater Review

Acting for democracy

October 03, 2009|David Ng

A stream-of-consciousness piece of political agitprop performed mostly in Russian with English supertitles, the Belarus Free Theatre's "Discover Love" is surely no one idea's of a carefree night of stage entertainment.

This earnest and talky play, which ends its run tonight at REDCAT, mingles a real-life incident from recent Belorussian history with an experimental sense of structure. The result is both maddening and compelling -- a perverse mix of CNN -- like immediacy and free-form Proustian digression.

The play, based on the life of Irina Krasovskaya, whose dissident husband was kidnapped and killed for his ties to a Belorussian democracy movement, unfolds as a series of long, disconnected memories detailing the heroine's childhood, marriage and ultimate descent into political hell.

Irina (Anna Solomianskaya) narrates the entire play with a bemused detachment. She floats serenely from one random recollection to the next, seemingly unconcerned whether her story fails to cohere in any conventional sense.

The personal is political. Irina's memories may be unreliable, but it hardly matters. In the audience program, the theater company says it has interpolated elements from the lives of similar women around the world who have suffered from "enforced disappearances" at the hands of brutal regimes.

As well-intentioned as it is, the story's grasp toward universality actually diminishes its reach. The characters of Irina and her husband, Anatoly (Oleg Sidorchik), come off as vague and curiously bloodless. The closing slide show depicting political protest from around the world also works against the production's dramatic credibility, taking us out of the moment by letting the real world flood in.

"Discover Love," written and directed by Nikolai Khalezin, is admirably anti-dramatic, avoiding easy thriller payoffs for something more cerebral, distanced and just plain strange. The play (co-written by Natalia Koliada) is a poetic evocation of life in a totalitarian regime that at times conjures moments of startling beauty and transcendence.

The cast, which includes Pavel Gorodnitski in multiple roles, creates a convincing sense of how the absurd and banal can coexist, often in the same instant. The performances occasionally inject a welcome sense of comedy and irony into the proceedings.

Belarus Free Theatre, which was founded in 2005, has stated that its goal is to fight against government censorship. The company often performs in secret in its own country, and one has to wonder what political fate awaits the creative team upon the conclusion of this tour.

Despite its dramatic flaws, "Discover Love" leaves a strong desire to learn more. Audiences will likely find themselves Googling the names of the play's ill-fated protagonists after the show. Given the company's stated objectives, this must be considered an artistic success.

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david.ng@latimes.com

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'Discover Love'

Where: REDCAT, 631 W. 2nd St., Los Angeles

When: 8:30 tonight

Price: $20 to $25

Contact: (213) 237-2800 or www.redcat.org

Running time: 1 hour, 10 minutes

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