MS. REBECCA SHEIR
Welcome back to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir and this week we're all about play. We've played video games at the Smithsonian, we've played basketball in Adams Morgan, we've watched political power plays in Richmond and now…
MS. REBECCA SHEIR
...we turn to a different kind of play altogether in Siberia.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE ONE
(singing) "The skies were cloudless and the winds were wild and raw, but that's Siberia, that's Siberia."
Okay, not the actual Siberia, but the theatrical one which you can now see live on stage in the world premiere rock musical, "Brother Russia."
(singing) "A noble people in their joys and in their pains, but that's Siberia, that's Siberia. That critter…"
The song titled, yes, "Siberia," is one of dozens in the show currently playing at Signature Theater in Arlington. "Brother Russia" is actually a play within a play. It opens in modern-day Siberia with this amateur band of traveling performers who usually spin out rock-inspired adaptations of Russian classics. The actors are led by the old grizzled, wheel-chaired bound impresario Brother Russia, portrayed by John Lescault.
MR. JOHN LESCAULT
And this particular night, rather than presenting Chekhov or Dostoevsky as they typically do, Brother Russia decides, because they're facing financial ruin to present the story of my deluded life, my life as Rasputin.
That's Rasputin, as in Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin, the Russian orthodox mystic who some say helped bring down the czarist regime in 1917. Others say he was simply a religious quack. Whatever the case, though, the reason Lescault refers to Brother Russia's deluded life is records show Rasputin was murdered in 1916 and the acting troupe in the present day, though legend does have it Rasputin actually never died.
Because Rasputin wouldn't die.
And we'll get to more of that in just a second. But first, going back to Brother Russia's show, he needs someone to play the so-called mad monk.
And I solicit Sasha, my stage manager, to play Rasputin and we also meet Sophia, a gypsy who has joined our company just two days ago, and I associate her with Anastasia and she takes on that role.
Anastasia is, of course, the daughter of Russia's final czar, Nicholas II, and legend has it she never died, either. In Brother Russia's telling of the tale, she falls in love with Rasputin and over the course of the play, as Doug Kreeger who plays Sasha/Rasputin puts it...
MR. DOUG KREEGER
He goes through a lot.
Especially for a guy who some believe was immortal.
I get shot, I got dismembered, I get drowned.
Wonderful, yes, poisoned. I'm so sorry to forget about the poisoning, but all sorts of wonderful and challenging things to play.
And the creative force behind all these wonderful and challenging things to play is writing duo Dana Rowe.
MR. DANA P. ROWE
I wrote the music for "Brother Russia."
And John Dempsey.
MR. JOHN DEMPSEY
And I wrote book and lyrics.
You might've caught two of their previous musicals, "The Fix" and "The Witches of Eastwick" at Signature a few years back. In any case, the guys met while attending college at Ohio State University and they've been kicking around the idea of a Rasputin musical for a while now, partly inspired by a memorable encounter Dempsey had while living in a Russian neighborhood in Queens, Ny.
I would see this one particular old lady who, every day, would walk to the market with her walker in front of her and her cart behind her and get her groceries for the day and then walk back. And it was probably about five blocks. But it took her about a half an hour to get there and half hour back. No matter the weather, she did it every day.
And one time Dempsey noticed the lady needed some help getting her cart up some stairs so he offered a hand.
And she was furious at me for offering help and she was more furious at herself for accepting it. And I just thought that Russian attitude of just carrying on with the business of life every day, no matter what, was just fascinating. And so that was something that we had talked about exploring in a musical somehow and...
Endurance, you know, keep them going no matter what the cost and no matter how you feel. Life goes on.
And the show goes on, too, as it must. And that's what actor John Lescault finds so beautiful about this show, depicting as it does this near broke group of actors just trying to keep on going.
Rowe and Dempsey I think, are making the point that the theatre will continue, like Rasputin, it will continue. That we do have an innate need for story and that we will stay as the lyric goes, "enthralled to the thrill."
And that, says Lescault, is why he does theatre in the first place, to remain enthralled from the rise of the curtain to long after the stage lights have dimmed.
"Brother Russia" runs through April 15th at Signature Theatre. You can find more information and see photos from the show on our website, metroconnection.org.
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