Underground International Voices of Theatre
in association with The O'Neill Film and Theatrical Foundation

That Queer Blind Silence

A politically psychotic play

August 5 to 23, 2015
13th Street Repertory Company,
50 W. 13th Street, NYC

About the Play
About the Playwright
About the Director
Related event: Art Exhibition

August 5 to 23, 2015
13th Street Repertory Theater, 50 W. 13th Street
Wednesdays through Sundays at 7:00 PM
Special matinee August 23 at 3:00 PM
Tickets $20 general admission

Box office 866-811-4111




Walter Krochmal (as Szimon Pedro)
Marina Levinson (as Nurse Wretched)
Grant Morenz (as Vladimir Putin)
Gavin Rohrer (as Edward Snowden)

The human condition of gays in contemporary Russia mirrors life in a phantasmagoric insane asylum. That's the view of a new play, "That Queer Blind Silence" by émigré playwright Sophia Romma. Her political farce, written in English but in the style of Russian Expressionism, depicts the ordeals of a fictional figure skater whose character was inspired partly by the life and career of bronze medalist Johnny Weir. Underground International Voices of Theatre, in association with The O'Neill Film and Theatrical Foundation, will present the play's world premiere run August 5 to 23 at 13th Street Repertory Company, 50 West 13th Street, NYC, directed by John Beshaw-Farrell. Ten percent of ticket sales will be donated to Underground International Voices of Theatre to support that organization's efforts for equal rights of the LGBTQ community in the Russian Federation.

During the buildup to the 2014 Sochi Olympics, gay and lesbian life in Russia was rocked by the passage of a law against the promotion of "non-traditional sexual relations." While Olympic Sponsors and western statesmen cried out, harassment and violence against gays worsened. Threatening innuendos were spread in leaflets stating that prison and fines would be the punishment of deviants from the sexual norm.

Homosexuality had been decriminalized in Russian in 1993, and to Russian émigré Sophia Romma, the change in Russia's political landscape suggested a certain regression into delusional psychopathology, which she paints in this play. It is an absurd, outrageous, macabre tale in which a fictitious gold medalist in figure skating is stripped of his honor and exiled to an asylum in Siberia, where the head psychiatrist, a lascivious sex-nik and mistress of Vladimir Putin, reforms homosexuals through spiritual cleansing and ludicrous soul-purging psychiatric tactics.

Romma's skater evokes the nonconformance of figure skater Johnny Weir, the 2008 World bronze medalist and three-time U.S. national champion, whose sexual orientation was a source of controversy during and after the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. The skater of the play, Szimon Pedro, known as the "Ice Oracle," had been getting by as a heterosexual pretender. But when he achieves his life's goal at Sochi, his western thinking and "individual expression" become suddenly corrosive of traditional values, demographic trends and the safety of children. So he is locked up among prisoners seen and unseen: the computer analyst and whistleblower Edward Snowden, a Russian lesbian feminist dissident journalist named Masha Guessin' (based on the real Masha Gessen), and the ghost of the actor/activist Paul Robeson. Szimon is pressured to rat out his gay athlete friends and subjected to electro-shock therapy, pseudoscientific libido enhancement and bizarre seduction. Can he withstand the pressure and earn heavenly redemption, or will he forever wear his gold medal as an albatross of bigotry around his neck?

The literary style of the play is courageous and unapologetic staccato verse. It chillingly reveals the pressures which are forced upon free-thinkers and ethnic minorities of contemporary Russia as a result of Putin's opposition to western influences and his immoral annexation of Crimea. The play would be a harmless, perverse delusion if it were not so chillingly true to the angst and paranoia in Russia today.

Director John Beshaw Farrell explains that thematically, the asylum in the play symbolizes Russia herself, maddened by her own lost grandeur: Orthodox, Imperial and Soviet. The inmates have all been useful idiots in advancing dishonest propaganda. The consequence of being betrayed by what they thought were their virtues has left them all damaged, unfit for any other life but that of a madhouse.

Playwright Sophia Romma adds, "In some ways, Russia's assault on LGBT rights is simply an opposition to American hubris and western concepts of individualism that are foreign to the Russian way of life. Various ethnic minorities threaten the Russian government, as do liberated thinkers, free spirits, nonconventional artists and athletes and reporters who openly criticize the current regime." She continues, "It's not just LGBT activists who give Russia the heebie-jeebies. A soul has no true rights due to the indelible fact that the law of Mother Russia abides. The country is striving for liberation but bogged down by its repression of break-through individualism deemed hazardous to the country."

The play is choreographed by Leslie Dockery. Set design is by Gregory Okshteyn. Costume design is by Marina Abramcyk. Music is by Michael Bulychev-Okser.  Theme music for "Paul Robeson" is by Otis Cotton. Incidental music is performed live by "Manana" from Armenia. The actors are Alice Bahlke, Walter Krochmal, Grant Morenz, Tommie Thompson, Gavin Rohrer, Anna Fishbeyn, Manana and Marina Levinson.






Playwright Sophia Romma
Alice Bahkle (as Mary Magdalene)
Grant Morenz (as Hitler)
Anna Fishbeyn (as Masha Guessin')
Marina Levinson and Walter Krochmal
Otis Cotton (at piano) and Tommie Thompson (as Paul Robeson)

Playwright Sophia Romma emigrated with her mother from Russia as a child during the Cold War, in 1979. She is a resident playwright of The Mayakovsky Academic Art Theatre of Moscow, Russia, where the name Quantum Verse was coined to describe her literary style. The name derives from the question "How real is the universe?" and the notion that it may contain parallel dialogues, a simple one and a metaphysical one.

She received her MFA at NYU and her Ph.D. from the prestigious Gorky Literary Institute in Moscow. Her most recent play was "Cabaret Émigré," in which international sex and politics intermingled in a boisterous cabaret, performed by a multicultural fabric of immigrants from various Eastern European countries and Nigeria. The play attempted to make sense of the soul of the émigré with Quantum Verse, whereas actors performed in an erotic American vernacular laced with the poetic. The play opened on Theatre Row during Hurricane Sandy and endured the storm’s wrath, but carried on against all odds. Her previous play, "With Aaron's Arms Around Me” and “The Mire" (two one-acts, directed by Charles Weldon, the Artistic Director of the Negro Ensemble Company), played at the Cherry Lane to appreciative critics and audiences. The New York Times (Andy Webster) wrote, "Each one-act takes a refreshing, almost sideways approach to the subject of ethnic tension." The review had particular praise for "The Mire," where a humorless lieutenant of Italian ancestry, a dissident fresh from the war in Iraq, is amorously undone by a precocious unearthly creature named Svetlana Moiseyevna "who speaks in effervescent wordplay artfully derived from Chekhov, and [the Lieutenant] is ensnared in her enchantments. So is the audience."

Romma was author of the film "Poor Liza," which was directed by cult-director of "Liquid Sky," Slava Tsukerman and starred Academy Award Winner Lee Grant, Academy Award Nominee Ben Gazzara and acclaimed Slovak actress Barbora Bobulova. The film adapts a classic Russian story by Nikolai Karamzin about a beautiful peasant girl who is seduced and forsaken by a young nobleman. "Poor Liza" won the Grand Prix Garnet Bracelet for best screenplay at the Gatchena Literature and Film Festival in St. Petersburg in 2000. Romma has had three productions at La MaMa E.T.C. directed by Tony nominated playwright Leslie Lee: "Love, in the Eyes of Hope, Dies Last" (1997), a journey through contemporary Jewish/Russian immigration in a series of eight playlets, "Coyote, Take Me There!" (1999), a surrealistic work on the ordeal of immigration and the corruption of the American dream, and "Defenses Of Prague" (2004), a story of the Golem's revenge on the Gypsies who had stolen his "Shem" or soul, granted to him by God, set in 1968, on the brink of the Soviet invasion of Prague. In 2005, Romma's anthology of poetry, "God and My Good" was published by the Gorky Literary Institute. In 2006 her collection of poems, "Garden of the Avant-garde" was published by Noble House, UK.

Her "Shoot Them in the Cornfields" (2006 at the Producers Club Theater) was a fictionalized family history that time tripped between World War II, the Khrushchev Reign, and the heady days of the Coup d'état of 1991. Her play "Absolute Clarity," a tale of a teenage heroine--a white raven and rebellious young artist searching for love and absolution, was presented Off-Broadway at the Players Theatre in 2006, directed by Yuri Joffe of the celebrated Mayakovsky Academic Art Theater in Moscow. Her "The Past is Still Ahead," a play on the tragic final day in the oppressed life of the infamous exiled Russian poet Marina Tsvetaeva, was directed by Swiss director, Francois Rochaix, debuting in the States as an Off-Broadway production at the Cherry Lane Theatre in 2007. It toured London at the Pushkin House in 2009 and has been performed at the JCC Theatre and at Oxford University. It has also been performed to rave reviews at the Mayakovsky Academic Art Theater and at the Millennium Theater in Brooklyn, NY. Romma’s 2013 American version of “The Past Is Still Ahead”, featuring an all-American cast, competed at the 14th Annual Midtown International Theatre Festival and was nominated for best original play and most creative scenic design. In November of 2015, “The Past Is Still Ahead” will premiere in South Korea. Most recently, Sophia’s short play, “Carte Blanche,” directed by John Beshaw Farrell, was presented at the Midtown International March Madness Theatre Festival, 2015. The play was a farcical spoof of the Tennessee Williams’ character, Blanche Dubois, who appears as a feminist avenger, collecting young men like trophies while shining on her own Sunset Boulevard.

Dr. Romma has taught Drama at the Lander College for Women, Screenwriting at the New York Film Academy, Fundamentals of Playwriting and Screenwriting at the Frederick Douglass Creative Arts Center and Screenwriting for Slavs at McGill University. She has conducted courses on Screenwriting and The Fundamentals of Playwriting at the Negro Ensemble Company. She was Literary Manager of the Negro Ensemble Company for three years. She is currently the Producing Artistic Director of The O’Neill Film and Theatrical Foundation, committed to the plight of gender parity in both the theatre and film industries. (www.theoneillfilmandtheatricalfoundation.com).

She is a member of the Dramatists Guild of America, one of the leaders of the DG Women’s Initiative and a member of the League of Professional Women in Theatre, where she serves as Chair of the International Committee. She is serving her eighth year as a distinguished member of the NYU Alumni Association Board, where she chairs the Regional and Global Outreach Committee and is President of the NYU Alumni Club of Long Island. She is also Vice-President of the International Center for Women Playwrights and is on the Board of the Women in the Media and Arts Coalition. (www.sophiaromma.net).




Alice Bahlke and John Farrel

Director John Beshaw-Farrell began working in theater as a protégé to actress Geraldine Fitzgerald when he joined her esteemed Everyman Company over 45 years ago. In 1981, Farrell emigrated to Ireland where he became a leading figure in that country’s artistic community, though he probably remains most identifiable from his long run (19 years) as sidekick to Irish broadcaster Gerry Ryan. Farrell won In Dublin Magazine's Best Production award for his stagings of "Twelfth Night" and "A Midsummer Night's Dream. " He was director of Dublin’s first Fringe Theatre Festival, an activitist Board Member of the Project Arts Centre and was, for several years, Director of Ireland's largest Arts Center, The Garter Lane in Waterford. Since returning to New York about five years ago, he has developed a one-man show about Brooklyn poet Walt Whitman, an on-going memoir/performance piece named "3 Lies About Brooklyn."





Painting by Inna Bodner

An exhibition of art works by Inna Bodner, titled "Ukrainian Guardians of Feminist Avant-garde," curated by Heidi Russell, will be held from August 1 to 23 in the 13th Street Repertory Company's theater lobby.

On Sunday, August 9, from 4:30 to 6:45 PM,  the exhibition's opening will be celebrated with a catered reception of Ukrainian cuisine, Uzbek delights and champagne. Ms. Bodner was a long-time colleague and creative collaborator of playwright Sophia Romma, who will present a brief discussion on Bodner's prolific life in theatre and in art and on their successful collaboration. Heidi Russell will also hold a short Q and A session pertaining to the the selection of artworks chosen for this honorary exhibition. 

Ms. Bodner died in August of 2011 from breast cancer at the age of 43.  She had 350 artworks in private collection in Ukraine at the time of her death, including 200 works on paper. Donations will be accepted to help preserve Ms. Bodner's creative legacy with proceeds given to breast cancer research. The public is invited to peruse her oeuvre at http://bodner.sitetokeep.com/fine-art/paintings-new. For more information or for arranging a personal viewing with the curator, contact: Heidi Russell at heidi.womenartsalon@gmail.com.



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