Connection is everything. It helps shape who we are and how we relate to each other “When we know we are connected to everyone else, acting with compassion is simply the natural thing to do,” wrote author Rachel Naomi Reman.
During the pandemic, in the midst of quarantine and social distancing, Arlekin Players Theatre, a theater company made up of immigrant actors from the former Soviet Union, created a production, State against Natasha Banina. Performed live on Zoom, the show centered on connection and its dismantling.
In this immersive live-action play, which featured interactive elements and animation, Darya Denisova played a Russian teenager living in an orphanage who is on trial for manslaughter. She insists she committed a crime of passion. The Zoom audience decides his fate.
State against Natasha Banina, which was directed by Ukrainian-born Igor Golyak has gone viral. Unlike the typical Zoom Square look, the production was unique and bold, as if it could practically pop out of your computer. Dedicated to creating an intimate and boundary-pushing virtual theatre, Golyak uses video game technology, films and interactive elements.
One of those people who was blown away by State against Natasha Banina was actress Jessica Hecht. She was introduced to Golyak and his work by her brother-in-law, who, like Golyak, is a Ukrainian immigrant.
“I thought the play was going to be the classic snore zoom presentation,” shares the breaking Bad actress. “But after seeing him, I came away thinking his work is amazing. He creates these amazing, dynamic works of art that are often very technical, but inside there’s a lot of heart, emotion and of human experience.
Then, when Golyak fell in love with the adaptation of Anton Chekhov The cherry orchard using robotics and other advanced technologies, Hecht and Mikhail Baryshnikov, who were also taken with Golyak’s work. came on board.
As described by Golyak the orchard, the piece is about trying to find humanity, empathy and hope in each other. “In a sense, it’s also an examination of the human soul,” he adds. “How come incredibly compassionate people forget someone? Someone they love.”
The orchard features Hecht as Madame Lyubov Ranevskaya. The matriarch of her family, Ranevskaya faces the loss of her beloved orchard in a foreclosure and must get her family out of debt. Baryshnikov plays Firs, the family’s servant and former serf completely devoted to their welfare. The cast also includes Elise Kibler, Juliet Brett, Darya Denisova, John McGinty, Nael Nacer, Mark Nelson and Ilia Volok
“The piece is multimedia and also very much rooted in the history of a family,” explains Hecht. “It’s about the loss of a world and the loss of humanity,” Golyak shares.
Whereas The orchard can be seen live and in person at the Baryshnikov Arts Center in New York City through July 3, there is also a separate live online interactive virtual experience. In the virtual experience which can be watched worldwide, viewers can see Chekhov’s letters and visit different virtual rooms while Baryshnikov also plays Chekhov and Hecht plays his mistress.
“The virtual element will bring some of this wild technology that Igor is interested in and examines in the story of the piece,” says Hecht. “You start with the story of Anton Chekhov, his girlfriend, Olga [Knipper] and their love story. Then you walk into a real-time portal in the room and watch it as we play it on stage on 37th Street.