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Keene State Theatre Premieres 'Mockba'

KEENE, N.H. 9/23/03 - Keene State Theatre will present the premiere of Mockba, an award-winning play about the new Russia by Ginger Lazarus, a recent graduate of Boston University’s Boston Playwrights’ Theatre. The play, which follows five American college students studying in Moscow in 1993, will be presented Tuesday-Saturday, Oct. 14-18, at 8 p.m. and also at 2 p.m. on Saturday in the Wright Theatre of the Redfern Arts Center on Brickyard Pond at Keene State College. Tickets are $7 for the general public and $5 for KSC students, senior citizens, and youth 17 or younger. Call the box office at 603-358-2168.

Lazarus, who was awarded the 1999 John Gassner Memorial Playwriting Award for Mockba, based the play on her own experiences as an American studying in Moscow. She places the five American students at the renowned Moscow Art Theater, staging Chekhov’s classic Three Sisters, while outside Russian president Boris Yeltsin is in a tense standoff with rebellious Communist hardliners. Director Dan Patterson says the drama has many ironic, yet humorous moments, because the students are doomed to failure, just as Russian exchange students would be if they staged Oklahoma in the United States.

"It’s not really a tragic play, but there is a sadness to it. The Americans come to realize there’s an underlying sadness among the Russian people," explains Patterson, an associate professor of theatre at Keene State.

It’s a new Russia where everyone is scrambling to make ends meet in a country that no longer takes care of them. A pensioner is forced to open her Moscow apartment to American boarders, while a prominent Russian director is reduced to teaching foreigners. And, for older Russians, it’s the second time they’ve had to undergo such drastic lifestyle changes.

"Their entire way of life changed twice in 70 years: in 1920 when the Communists took over and again in 1990, when socialism collapsed," says Patterson. "Yet, these are just blips on the radar screen of Russian history."

Mockba continues the Keene State Theatre Premiere Series, which produces a new play every three years. "This is an ongoing commitment by the Department of Theatre to produce good works and encourage the writing of new plays," explains Patterson, who founded the Premiere Series 14 years ago and continues to coordinate it.

Instead of placing ads in theatre trade publications, he contacted New England playwriting schools, asking if they had good new plays they couldn’t afford to produce. He received a total of 30 entries from Brown University, Boston University, Middlebury College, and Yale University. He culled the plays down to two finalists and Mockba was the overwhelming favorite of the theatre faculty.

Patterson chose his cast as carefully as the play, using seasoned actors to work alongside students. KSC theatre faculty Kim Dupuis of Swanzey has the difficult task of speaking only Russian in her role as Tatiana, the woman who boards the American students. Another KSC theatre faculty, Vaughn West of Keene, plays theater owner Bogachov, the Russian version of Lee Strasberg, the famous American producer, director, and teacher. Mark Ziter of Putney, Vt., who has performed at Actors Theatre Playhouse in West Chesterfield, portrays Laskin, a renowned Russian acting teacher.

Abraham Blanchard, a freshman theatre major from Bridgewater, Vt., plays Geoff, an affable musical theater buff. Junior Alex Carey of Cummaquid, Mass., portrays Michael, who goes by his Russian nickname, Misha; speaks good Russian; and is intent on assimilating into Moscow culture.

Katie Fleming, a junior theatre and elementary education major from Narragansett, R.I., plays Jessica, who is interested more in partying than in studying acting. Dawn Marie Grant, a senior theatre major from Bristol, plays Minna, a dedicated theatre student who finds the Russian language inscrutable. Shannon Sexton, a sophomore theatre major from Merrimack, portrays Gwen, a sardonic feminist.

Shaun Burdick of Derry is stage manager, and Jeremy Hurley of Keene and Ian Vigue of New Durham are assistant stage managers.

Lazarus was a finalist in the 2002 Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival Ten-Minute Play Competition. She completed a master’s degree in playwriting at Boston Playwrights’ Theatre, where her full-length play Nonprofit was performed in 2002. Her work has been produced by five playhouses in the greater Boston area and in New York by Gad’s Hill and the Oberon Theatre Ensemble.

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