by Lynn on May 29, 2016

in The Passionate Playgoer

At Broadview Place, 296 Broadview Ave., Toronto, Ont.

Created by Mark and Marichka Marczak
Directed by Mark Marczak
Musical director, Marichka Marczak
Set and props by Matthew Cherkas
Video design by Pedro Bonatto de Castro
Lighting designed by Kaitlin Hickey
Mask maker Clelia Scala.
Cast: Volodymyr Bedzvin,
Nathan Dell-Vandenberg
Tamar Llana
Michael Louis Johnson
Michael Keene,
Oskar Lambarri
Marichka Marczyk
Mark Marczyk
Dima Nechepurenko
Jaashi Singh
Ian Tullock
Chris Weatherstone
Stephania Woloshyn

A raucous, revolution-documenting guerrilla-folk opera that joyously puts the audience in the action, dancing, eating, building a barricade and having a great time, until the sobering ending. A disconnect there. Revolution-lite.

The Story. In February, 2014 the people of Kyiv protested the corrupt government of President Viktor Yanukovych’s regime, called the Maidan Revolution. The main impetus was Yanukovych’s refusal to sign a free trade agreement with Europe, choosing instead to have closer ties with Russia. There were many violent clashes with riot police.

Mark and Marichka Marczyk met at the revolution, fell in love, married, and created the show about their experiences. They interviewed protesters; brought them food and medical supplies and were committed to that cause. The show is the result.

The Production. The audience files into the large playing space at Broadview Place. There are long tables covered by table clothes configured in the middle of the room. There are chairs at the tables. On either side of the room are three banks of benches. At the head of the room are three huge screens on which are projected newsreels of the goings on in Kiev leading up to the protests.

Also as the audience files in Marichka Marczyk sits at the piano playing various Ukrainian folk music and she is able joined by Mark Marczyk on the violin.

One news clip shows President Victor Yanukovych dressed smartly. The newsreel comments on his fabulously expensive house in the country with mention of a gold toilet. The cold of it must have shocked his tush when he sat on it.

Projections of news clips provide the clear build-up that lead to the protests. Interspersed with these news clips are comments of what was going on.

When the lights dim the wonderful Lemon Bucket Orkestra appear play and sing various folk songs. The pulsing beat of the music is infectious. Every member of the orkestra wears a white mask covering the eyes and the top of the nose. At the sides are white ears. Sheep masks. Later when they take off the masks the eyes and area around them are ‘painted’ black.

Soon after the performance begins a clip says, “Even revolutionaries have to eat,” at which point members of the orkestra wheel out several carts full of white bowls of ‘borscht’, really diced beets. In true community fashion the bowls of borscht are passed from one person to the next until everybody has a bowl (and a spoon) and can eat. Other members of the cast serve sliced, buttered pieces of bread. The atmosphere is festive.

Over the seventy-five minutes or so of the production what’s happening in the newsreel is repeated in a variation by the “protesters” of the Lemon Bucket Orkestra. Protesters walk slowly up the table holding a long red and white striped swath of material aloft. They approach armed riot police at the head of the table who yell something in Ukrainian. I assume it’s to stop. Riot police then attack the protesters in short blackout scenes: clubs aloft (blackout), next scene clubs making contact (blackout) and so on.

Other times protesters graciously, happily ask members of the audience to dance, play hand-clapping games, relocate from where they are sitting and even help build a barricade.

Director Mark Marczyk has a good sense of how to move his large group of performers and how to gently but firmly negotiate the large audience around the space. (It is quite intriguing to see some of Toronto’s finest theatre creators in my audience, diligently, unquestioningly haul tires, benches, and bits of wood onto an ever growing barricade.) Then paper plates of cooked buckwheat (Kasha) and perogies with a dollop of sour cream are served to the audience. The sense of fun and goodwill of the audience is strong. The information from the projections seems rather tame. I wonder if anyone got hurt or worse because it hasn’t been reported up till them.

Then the newsreels got more and more violent. Riot police attack the crowds in force. The barricade is set on fire by the riot police. Protesters are shot. A protester lies dead in the centre of the playing area; someone weeps over the body. The body is picked up and carried by comrades as we are all lead out of the room and into another area of the Broadview Place. We crowd into the space and see newsreels revealing the number of dead (780). Protesters line up behind a table while others sing a mournful folk song. They remove their masks and put them on the table and leave one by one. I assume this is symbolic of their having died.
At either end of the table are two ‘soldiers’? police? in full riot gear, helmets and masks. They hold something that looks like a rifle or something equally as nasty. At the end of the show, they turn and aim at the audience. Blackout and a terrible sound effect. Troubling.

Comment. I assume Mark and Marichka Marczyk created Counting Sheep to give a sense of what that revolution was like for people who were not there, a kind of report to the world. Noble intention but I could not help feel that the whole exercise is ‘revolution lite’ with mixed feelings about the result. Certainly the many people of Ukrainian decent in the audience would know about the horrors of that time; some in my audience had actually experienced the revolution. For the rest it seemed like a joyous night in the theatre with lots of singing, dancing and food with intermittent seriousness, certainly at the sobering end.

It’s troubling that we learn of the wounded and dead almost at the end of the show and not all the way through. All the time before seems to be having a good time. Rather than calling it Counting Sheep I think a more apt title would have been “Herding Sheep” people are so easy to manoeuvre when they are a willing audience out for an interesting, fun evening in the theatre.

Rather than participate in all that activity, I choose to observe. You get a clearer perspective doing that. Counting Sheep reminded me of the Off Broadway show Here Lies Love, a musical last year at the Public Theatre that documented the rise to power of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos in the Philippines and how they were opposed by the Aquino family. Again, the audience bopped, danced, swayed and was manoeuvred around the playing space at times showing support for Marcos and then Aquino, depending on what the crowd was told to do, which they did willingly. Newsreels showing the brutality of the Marcos regime flashed around the walls around the space. I chose to watch the proceedings from above the playing area. Fascinating and frightening. The audience was having a great time. What was frightening was that they then became the fickle people who changed their loyalties without thought. It didn’t seem to occur to them. I noted this to the stage manager who agreed and said that every person of Philippine decent knew exactly what was happening and they all would leave the theatre grim-faced and serious.

I appreciate the effort of Mark and Marichka Marchzyk and the wonderful Lemon Bucket Orkestra in creating Counting Sheep. It deals with a sobering story. The intentions in telling it are honourable. What is missing of course is that commitment of those at the centre of the protests. Involving an audience of mostly safe, contented Canadians who generally don’t revolt about anything somehow makes the exercise “Revolution lite.”

Presented by the Lemon Bucket Orkestra, produced by Michael Rubenfeld

Opened: May 25, 2016.
Closes: June 5, 2016.
Cast: 13. (but could be 14 because I saw Michael Rubenfeld in the group)
Running Time: 75 minutes.

Leave a Comment

Respectful comments are accepted on this site as long as they are accompanied by a verifiable name and a verifiable e-mail address. Posts that are slanderous, libelous or personally derogatory will not be approved.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Michael Rubenfeld May 30, 2016 at 2:52 am

Lynn! You hit the nail on the head. Mostly joy with intermittent seriousness. Because that was what the Maidan was. A peaceful, dignified, joyous protest that turned intermittently seriousness. But it was that joy — the people coming together — a community coming together to celebrate their desire for freedom that is disrupted by violence at the end, which then resulted in Putin’s war. The goal of the creators is to cut through the CNN headlines and show you that this protest was full of celebration — the celebration of a people coming together to collectively determine their fate. The sobering ending, and the current reality, is that despite the will of the people, an outside source decided to deter their will. You call it revolution lite. The show is revolution reality. You are criticizing the reality of the Maidan. You are asking for the headlines, the horrors, that the show is wanting to contradict. You were given the reality — the human side — the real story straight from the people who were there and saw how beautiful the revolution was. You wanted it to be worse … and this is problematic … you wanted it to fulfill your idea of what revolution is in your mind — and they want to show you the power of community — the celebration of protest. Its confusing to imagine that for those months on revolution square, those protests were powerful enough to unite a country. To call this revolution light is a criticism of the revolution itself… which I find troubling.


2 Lynn May 30, 2016 at 10:25 am

Michael, Always good to hear your passionate opinions. Here you say I hit the nail on the head. In an e-mail to me you say I got it wrong. A person could get confused. What I’m not confused about is the production I reviewed–the production i saw, not the production I wanted to see; or the production I should have see; but the production I saw. If the intention was to show how joyous and celebratory the revolution was then the creators should have stated their intention in one of the projections because it’s not clear. If the creators wanted to cut through the CNN headlines then they should have said that and projected that joy and not the violence. Soon after the borscht was served riot police slowly descended on protesters with clubs. That establishes the idea of this being a violent undertaking. The program does not note this celebration. It notes the civil unrest. That should be fixed as well to prove your point. And when I say that it was “revolution lite’ you know I was referring to the production and not the actual revolution. I will chalk that comment up to you being provocative. Always good to hear from you.