Back Stage West   

"This production, written by and starring Ilia Volok and David Laird Scott, is a decently crafted and neatly performed love letter to the American way with a tinge of Russian sardonicism." THE RUSSIANS ARE HERE

By Reviewed by Dany Margolies
Publication: Back Stage West
Date:
Thursday, November 2 2000
 

Every so often it's nice to remember that as much as Americans squawk about matters sociopolitical (just wait until after the election), others the world over dream about living here. This production, written by and starring Ilia Volok and David Laird Scott, is a decently crafted and neatly performed love letter to the American way with a tinge of Russian sardonicism. So while our hero does kiss the American soil, he also points out to us a few societal foibles that, to say the least, need fixing. We meet Ilia Pushkin (Volok) as he tries to milk his beloved cow on an icy Russian morning. He begins to dream the impossible dream, helped along the way by an array of characters (all Scott). Soon newly arrived in America, our hero falls into stereotypical traps?standard conceits about language difficulties, a stranger in a strange land.

The storyline is utilitarian, so it is far better to focus on the acting. Volok reacts honestly to his character's situations: surprised when a con man steals his luggage, delighted at the way hard work pays off. He plays innocence sweetly; he plays bliss truthfully, he invests himself fully in his character. As a matter of art imitating life imitating art and speaking of dreams coming true we see film clips of real-life actor Volok playing a bad guy being shot to smithereens by Harrison Ford in Air Force One.

Volok sings: He has an ample and pleasant, if not always sonorous, voice. Volok dances: He is a large man, but he still can get down?in Russian folk dances, a touch of hip hop, a striptease (how else can a foreigner make a living here?), and, best of all, a dance of sheer exuberance that makes him look like a large frolicking Snoopy (choreography by Heidi McCarthy). But best, Volok conveys pathos, a longing, an appreciation for his life here. It's a safe bet there's no "I love Moscow" bumper sticker on Volok's car.

Laird does some of the worst accents heard on the professional stage (is he toying with us?), but he more than amply compensates with the physicality of his many characters: his sweet young thing clutches helplessly at her handbag and primps incessantly, his old men shuffle, his Russian operative menaces, and Mama will really miss her boichik. It's more than the zany costumes and wigs (Laura Quiroz, Edita Galkis, and Olga Pestun); Laird humanizes and maintains his characterizations.

Stay with this story, even as it becomes increasingly improbable. There are hints, plus a rational explanation for it all which is more than can be said for those matters sociopolitical.

"The Russians Are Here," presented at the American Renegade Theater,
11136 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood. Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 7 p.m. $15-20. Oct. 21-Dec. 17 (818) 763-4430.