Andrew Kushnir explores Ukraine's rich traditions and rocky realities in vibrant new play

Presented by Tarragon Theatre
Written by Andrew Kushnir
Directed by Richard Rose

Nancy Palk, Amy Keating, Luke Humphrey and Benedict Campbell in Wormwood. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.

Tarragon playwright-in-residence Andrew Kushnir’s latest offering, Wormwood, is a staggeringly beautiful play with such deep symbolism that I wouldn’t hesitate to call it a modern-day parable. At its core, Wormwood is a profound exploration of fracture in all of its possible incarnationsnational, psychological, relational, spiritualpresented through the prism of Ukraine, a border nation whose only true certainty is its precariousness.

The play’s main themes are introduced in classical style by the Kobzar, our guide throughout the play, masterfully portrayed by Scott Wentworth, who gives the bard a serious air of Leonard Cohen. Following this formal introduction, we meet Ivan, an idealistic and politically inclined Canadian millennial visiting his grandparents’ home country for the first time, to observe the 2004 election that preceded the Orange Revolution.

Ivan soon discovers that he’s in over his head. Wholly ill-equipped to deal with the “old country” ways of his host, The Professor (Ben Campbell) and his off-kilter entourage, The Housekeeper (Nancy Palk) and The Daughter (Amy Keating), Ivan soon finds himself in a precarious situation indeed. While Ivan is confined to his sickbed, The Professor forbids him from opening the steel shutters of the room’s only window. So, being a young man of course he opens the window, and discovers a beautiful garden and an even more beautiful girl, Artemesia (Chala Hunter).

From here, Ivan soon finds himself intimately involved in a battle between two families; between two political parties; between two realities. The play’s spartan set speaks to Ukraine’s economic conditions, but more importantly it provides a visual metaphor for Wormwood’s psychic nowhere land. Scenes effortlessly flow between the realistic and the absurd, interwoven with whimsical traditional Ukrainian bandura music provided by Victor Mishalow. All of the performers are in top form with the Kobzar and Professor standing out, along with periodic moments of surreal hilarity provided by the disgruntled housekeeper.

The beauty of Wormwood lies in its hypnotic ability to convince you to live, if only for a few hours, in the world of myth. Wormwood’s subject is the pain of the Ukrainian diaspora, but as with all parables, the specifics of the story are merely a vehicle for revealing the eternal human truth that lies within.

Wormwood runs until December 20, 2015 at Tarragon Theatre. Visit tarragontheatre.com for more information and to buy tickets.

Show Dates: 
Wed, 2015-11-11 - Sun, 2015-12-20
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