New Russian Cultural Center to present ‘Berdichev’ in Schenectady

The dinner table in “Berdichev/The Family that Never Was” is surrounded by different chairs, part of the set design for the play. Inset: Characters in a scene from the play. (photos provided)

The dinner table in “Berdichev/The Family that Never Was” is surrounded by different chairs, part of the set design for the play. Inset: Characters in a scene from the play. (photos provided)

With its latest theatrical production, the New Russia Cultural Center doubled its workload.

This weekend it will present two versions of the play “Berdichev/The Family that Never Was” at the Neil and Jane Golub Theater at the Boys & Girls Club of Schenectady; one in English and one in Russian.

“This is a theatrical project we tried to do a couple years and finally we got the theatrical grant,” said Tanya Deptola, the president of the cultural center, which is located in Rensselaer. The center’s focus since it was founded in 2005 has been to celebrate East European art and cultural heritage through community events and theater. With other productions, actors performed in Russian and English translations would be available on a screen or certain characters in the production would explain the plot in English.

With “Berdichev/The Family that Never Was,” which is funded through the Decentralization Grant Program, they decided to have two different casts, working with 16 different actors to pull off both productions.

The material is in no way light-hearted. Written by Friedrich Gorenstein, “Berdichev” is an unsentimental story of what happened to Soviet Jews in the years following the Holocaust. It centers around a Jewish family, as two sisters, Rachel and Golda, guide their families through poverty and strife. It spans 30 years, from 1945 to 1975, and is inspired by Gorenstein’s life.

Berdichev is a city in Central Ukraine that was invaded by Nazis during World War II and the Jewish population was nearly eliminated. Gorenstein, who lived from 1932 to 2002, witnessed firsthand the decline of Jewish culture in Soviet society and became well-known for his writings on antisemitism.

Gorenstein was born into a Jewish family and his parents were both educators. His father was arrested and killed under Stalin’s regime in 1937, after having spent two years in the Gulag.

When Nazis invaded the country in 1941, Gorenstein and his mother fled the country, though his mother died two years later. Gorenstein was sent to an orphanage until the war ended and after that was raised by his aunts in Berdichev. The characters in “Berdichev” are based on his family members.

“This is not an easy subject, it’s [a] very deep play. You cannot say it’s a comedy, you cannot say it’s a drama as well because it’s tragic and humor is going to be constantly interchanged. This one is [one] you should think about . . . That’s what we’re hoping. We’re hoping that people will think about family values, about [the] Holocaust, about Jewish people,” Deptola said.

She’s a bit nervous to see how American audiences will react to the production, however, she feels it’s important, especially for young audiences, to have an understanding of the Holocaust’s impact.

“The Berdichev Theatrical Project is intended to acquaint the public with what has been hailed as one of the most important works in 20th Century Jewish-Russian theater,” Deptola wrote in a statement. “It is also designed to renew awareness of the Holocaust to a newer generation of Americans, to counter the recent nationwide rise in Holocaust-denial memes and anti-semitic acts, and examine its social and cultural impact in the twenty-first century.”

While they traditionally present productions at the Cultural Center, the sizable cast of “Berdichev” required a bigger stage, so they turned to the Neil and Jane Golub Theater at the Boys and Girls Club of Schenectady.

“It’s a beautiful theater and wonderful stage and lighting and sound system. Everything [that] we needed [was] there,” Deptola said.

“Berdichev/The Family that Never Was”

WHEN: 7-9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday
WHERE: Neil and Jane Golub Theater at Boys & Girls Club of Schenectady, 104 Education Drive, Schenectady,
TICKETS: $18 online in advance, $20 at the door
Masks must be worn.

Categories: Entertainment, Life and Arts

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