By Edward Kliszus
As the audience entered the theater for Darkness After Night: Ukraine, John Klenner’s song “Just Friends” as sung by Frank Sinatra, wafted through the space. Sinatra featured this song in his collection of heartbreaking music in his 1962 album All Alone.
The song is fitting and meets expectations for a sad tale of the tragic nature of Russia’s brutal conflagration with Ukraine, as explicated by actor, writer, and director Stephan Morrow in his program notes. After the final bows, Morrow returned to articulate his goal to bring the plight of Ukraine to the forefront of American consciousness through theater, to provide relevant theater, “to make work in theater that addresses issues that seem significant.” Morrow characterized his work as a complex “kaleidoscope” of ideas and themes supporting the story.
Morrow’s ”kaleidoscope” metaphor aptly describes the psychic shifts of focus that brought us, sometimes quickly, to scenes of romance, violence, execution, confrontation, political intrigue, espionage, war zones, and towards an aspirant denouement.
The play opens with Yuri Dubashin (Stephan Morrow) stopping a guard (George Lugo) from beating to death a young soldier prisoner, Valery Myshkin (Liam Kyle McGowan). This portentous glimpse into Dubashin’s character garnered sympathy that was to mark his leadership. We discovered that Myshkin’s “crime” was to surreptitiously garner supplies from a depot for starving Russian soldiers in his company. Dubashin warned the young man that he could not protect him if such actions reoccur.
Throughout the play, Anchorwoman Marusya (Natalia Volkodaeva) delivered regular updates on the Ukraine crisis in the story’s context. Her rich Eastern European accent, composure, and demeanor enhanced her helpful, personal, rich, and passionate portrayal.
Protagonist Dubashin was appalled by Russian brutality, well chronicled in a dramatic scene of artillery destroying a hospital filled with children. He defected and joined the Ukrainian military leadership in an adventure that took him to Yemen, where he met with CIA operative John Kane (Carl Ellis Grant) and Yemeni citizen Anwar Ibn Suleiman (Josh Alter).
We discovered that tyrant and antagonist Number One (Joe Marshall) was a childhood companion of Dubashin who had risen to the heights of power to energize the ambitions of the Motherland to compel Ukraine into submission. Number One is avaricious, stealing Dubashin’s politically ambitious love interest (Emilie Bienne). In a final stand-off between the two, Number One oddly offers Dubashin a partnership in his world-conquering enterprise. And then, the dramatic denouement.
With a simple stage set, Lighting Designs by Alexander Bartenieff perceptively supported the drama and intrigue. Sound Design was well crafted by Joy Linscheid, ensuring realistic war settings, pathos, and scene transitions.
Runtime is 90 minutes, including intermission.
Darkness After Night: Ukraine
Stephan Morrow as Yuri Dubashin
Joe Marshall as Putinesque Number One
Josh Allan Alter as Anwar Ono
Emilie Bienne as Andreyeva Ouspenskaya
Carl Ellis Grant as John Kane
George Lugo as Sgt. Lopahin
Liam McGowan as Valery Myshkin
Natalia Volkodaeva as as Ukraninian Anchorwan and Marusya
Written and Directed by Stephan Morrow
Crystal Field, Executive Director
Alexander Bartenieff, Lighting Design
Joy Linscheid, Sound Design
Mathew Seepersad, Stage Manager
Theater for the New City
155 First Ave. (at E. 10th Street)
New York, NY 10003
Find tickets for this and upcoming shows at https://theaterforthenewcity.net/