connection is everything. It helps shape who we are and how we relate to each other. “When we know that we are connected to everyone else, it’s natural to act compassionately,” wrote author Rachel Naomi Remen.
During the pandemic, amid quarantine and social distancing, Arlekin Players Theatre, a theater company made up of immigrant actors from the former Soviet Union, created a production State vs. Natasha Banina. Performed live on Zoom, the show was about connection and disconnection.
In this immersive live piece, which included interactive elements and animation, Darya Denisova played a teenage Russian girl who lives in an orphanage and is on trial for manslaughter. She insists she committed a crime of passion. The Zoom audience decides their fate.
State vs. Natasha Banina, directed by Ukrainian-born Igor Golyak went viral. Unlike the typical stare into the zoom square, the production was unique and daring, like it could practically jump out of your computer. Dedicated to creating an intimate, boundary-pushing virtual theater, Golyak utilizes video game technology, film, and interactive elements.
One of those people who got blown away State vs. Natasha Banina was actress Jessica Hecht. She learned about Golyak and his work from her brother-in-law who, like Golyak, is a Ukrainian immigrant.
“I thought the play was going to be the classic Snore Zoom presentation,” he shares breaking Bad Actress. “But after seeing it, I thought his work is amazing. He creates these incredibly dynamic works of art that are often very technical, but there is a lot of heart and emotion and human experience inside.”
Then, when Golyak passionately campaigned for the adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s The cherry orchard using robotics and other cutting-edge technologies, Hecht and Mikhail Baryshnikov, who was also impressed by Golyak’s work. came on board.
As Golyak describes the orchard, the piece is about finding humanity, empathy and hope in each other. “In a way, it’s also an examination of the human soul,” he adds. “How is it that amazingly compassionate people forget someone? A person they love.”
The Orchard features Hecht as Madam Lyubov Ranevskaya. Faced with losing her beloved orchard to foreclosure, her family’s matriarch, Ranevskaya, must get her family out of debt. Baryshnikov plays Firs, the family servant and a former serf who is 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 rooted in the history of a family,” says Hecht. “It’s about the loss of a world and the loss of humanity,” Golyak shares.
While The Orchard Seen live and in person at the Baryshnikov Arts Center in New York City through July 3, there is also a separate interactive live online virtual experience. In the virtual experience, which can be viewed worldwide, viewers can see Chekhov’s letters and visit various virtual rooms, while Baryshnikov also plays Chekhov and Hecht plays his lover.
“The virtual element brings some of that wild technology that Igor is interested in and looks at in the story of the play,” says Hecht. “You start with the story of Anton Chekhov, his girlfriend Olga [Knipper] and her love story. Then you step into a real-time portal into the play and watch us do it on the 37th Street stage.”