Until I saw this play, I don't think the name Lukashenko had ever registered with me. He is a dictator in the land-locked country of Belarus, near Romania. Playwright Andrei Kureichik was smuggled out of that country after the dictator cracked down on the country and all dissent in a big, big way. Weirdly (in light of what has been going on in the USA), he held a sham election and this time people tried to call him out on that. His reaction was brutal violence.
Insulted, Belarus (translated by John Freedman) tells the tale, Reader's Theatre style, of that election and its horrific aftermath. But more than that, it portrayed the hopes of those who thought maybe this time they could topple a dictator by the rules he said he was going to obey (but never, ever had). This was the real thing, played with chilling, shallow malice (Randall Wulff). A optimist election witness (Devin Davis-Lorton), a candidate (Angela Beyer) seeking to unseat the dictator, a hooligan/protestor (Anthony M. Sannazzaro), they all wanted to change things. Just as a storm-trooper (Andrew Loviska), and a school principal (Juliet Morrison) want things to stay the same, and don't care who gets hurt, maimed, violated, or even killed. Not at first.
Add to the mix the dictator's youngest son (Courtney Brechemin) exactly as shallow and selfish as his father, but with the excuse of childhood. A kind of weird mirror/echo to the dictator.
Powerful stuff. And topical. Performed by one of the best theatre companies in the Los Angeles area. More, this play works in stirring up emotions. The performances are all good. As expected with this company!
It is also less good that what I've come to expect. Nowhere near bad, or even average. In fact it remains a very worthwhile piece of theatre! But...less excellent than expected. And I think the reason lies in the whole Readers' Theatre format, which forces pretty much the entire cast to directly interact with the audience for most of the performance. This is hard. Honestly, the audience can almost never give anything to the actors in this situation. It is as if the cast are stuck doing ninety minutes of very intense monologues. It is very hard And lacking the dynamic energy that an entire cast usually feeds to one another--and which I've seen nearly all this cast participate with/create in the past--well, it suffers. Some. Not a lot. Barely enough to mention. Just enough to mention, in fact.
The play is still powerful. Still dramatic. Still intense and worth the price of a ticket, not least for us to think about nations who are not in the forefront of the news reports right now, but still suffer.
I am not "damning with faint praise" but rather "praising with faint damnation." Saying "not quite as good as City Garage usually fares" is a little like saying "not the tallest skyscraper in Manhattan." Because it remains an impactful work of living art, opening one's eyes and heart to the unknown, yet somehow recognizable as absolutely true. The characters and their fates (for so many of them are acted upon most of all) haunted me long after I left the theatre. Honestly, given the track record of this theatre company, had my soul not been so haunted I would be shocked.
Insulted, Belarus plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 4pm until December 17, 2023 at the City Garage, Bergamot T1 Space, 2525 Michigan Ave Santa Monica, CA 90404.