Russian Theater class culminates in presentation of play ‘The Lady Peasant’

The cast dances, laughs and kisses one another during a rehearsal for ‘The Lady Peasant.’ The play will be performed at Global Scholars Hall Room 123 on March 11 and 12. (Amanda Shigeoka/Emerald)

Russian Through Theater is not your average language course. Instead of sitting in a classroom conjugating verbs, students create a play based on a selected work of Russian literature. Throughout winter term, students learn about different authors, create a full-length play and rehearse in Russian. All of this work culminates in two performances at the end of winter term. This year’s final product will be performed this weekend in Global Scholars Hall.

This year’s production is an “adaptation of an adaptation of an adaptation,” according to theatre major Christopher Shiroma. He plays Romeo in the class’ adaptation of Aleksandr Pushkin’s Shakespeare-influenced short story, “The Lady Peasant.” Past plays have included “Eugene Oregin,” a spoof of Pushkin’s novel “Eugene Onegin” and “Queen of Spades” based on his novella of the same name.

The majority of this year’s play, “The Lady Peasant,” is performed in Russian. Though the language may be a deterrent for those who don’t know it, the vaudevillian nature of the show will make the characters’ actions clear, according to Itay Vagner, a cast member who plays Mercutio.

Based on “Romeo and Juliet,” but with a different ending, “The Lady Peasant” is a romantic-comedy spin on Pushkin and Shakespeare’s works. Director and course instructor Julia Nemirovskaya wrote a custom script for the play based on Pushkin’s story of the same name.  

“Since Pushkin despised having bad endings in plays, as such in ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ he decided to make all of his comedies have happy endings as a kind of a twist of luck and fate,” Vagner said.

Nemirovskaya developed the play with the cast throughout the rehearsal process. Shiroma, who is used to doing a read-through on the first day of rehearsals, said that there was no script on day one. “It moved in real time,” he said.

Now that the cast is moving closer to the performance date, the rehearsal process is getting faster. “Now we have a lot of speed. We have to keep that momentum up and keep that energy. Every practice is essential,” said Shiroma.

Despite the heavy emphasis on practice, it isn’t the only important aspect of the course for those involved. Since the script was written in real time, each actor was able to add a personal touch to the show as their characters began to resemble themselves. “I feel like I can very easily identify with the role,” Shiroma said about playing Romeo.

In addition to acting, every actor has other responsibilities when it comes to putting on the show. Vagner is on the PR team for the play and other cast members such as Shiroma are playing guitar or doing something else musical in the show. Other theatrical duties include making costumes and building sets.

These additional projects made the cast fast friends — they often got together on weekends to have cookies or play games. A few of the cast members were hesitant about joining the class, but decided to stay after one or two rehearsals.

Cast members such as Vagner and Shiroma relate to their characters because of this process, but also because of how intense making the show has been in general. “It’s an essential kind of closeness that needs to be built,” Shiroma said.

Vagner, an Israeli international student, didn’t speak Russian before attending the class. Throughout the process, fellow cast members such as Katya Rogers and Ksenia Gordeeva, a Russian Studies graduate student, have helped him with his Russian dialect.

“You get exposure to a Russian cultural thing,” said Shiroma. “The director has made an effort to instill as many moments of, ‘This is our culture!’ here.”

“The Lady Peasant” has two showings in room 123 at Global Scholars Hall this weekend on Saturday, March 11 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, March 12 at 2:30 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.

Editor’s note: Stacy Yurishcheva, who plays Juliet in the play, is an employee of the Emerald. She did not contribute to the article.