Found: Migratory Dreams in Lost in Lvov

by Ramona Gonzales
Editor in Chief

Lost in Lvov1

“I mused on what it meant to be a daughter of one of the last immigrant generations, like the one of my parents. As I watched the generations of women (and men) in my family unravel, blossom, break apart, fall in and out of love, lose life to illness, or time I became extremely invigorated to capture these moments of humanity.” – Sandy Simona

Schkapf is a place dedicated to “performance culture in Los Angeles” nestled in the middle of Theatre Row, a string of theaters along Santa Monica boulevard. This “Performing Arts Incubator” flanks a parking lot bookended by The Hudson Theater which has focused on showcasing those working to get a leg-up in the Entertainment Industry that, more often than not, overshadows the Los Angeles those of us with roots here know intimately and are fiercely protective of.

Los Angeles is a city of immigrants and migrants in much the same way that New York City was around the turn of the 20th century. People have migrated to Los Angeles, whether from Europe or the whole of continental North & South America, to pursue dreams of a better life, following faith in the possibility of something different, better, more glorious than they could even conceive. Presented at Schkapf in June as part of the 2014 Hollywood Fringe Theater festival, and again in August as part of the Encore! Producers’ Awards Sandy Simona’s Lost in Lvov is a brilliant illustration of the universality of both The Immigrant Narrative and The Migrant Narrative.

The Immigrant Narrative
There are more and more stories of late that explore The Immigrant Narrative, especially in Theater of Color. Some Playwrights of Color have made their careers excavating and mining their own and their family’s experience in leaving home, embarking on a severely dangerous journey, and arriving to an unfamiliar country beset with a whole other trove of herculean challenges to endure: language barriers, assimilation resistance or difficulties, and generational identity conflict. As someone who primarily watches Theater of Color, it was refreshing to experience Simona’s take on the trope, especially considering this Immigrant Narrative was about a Ukrainian Jewish family immigrating in the 1980’s. It is an experience that falls far outside my familiarity.

Simona created the story of the three Belman sisters using elements oral history, choreography, and Eastern European ensemble physical theater. Accompanied by live, vibrant Gypsy and Klezmer inspired music (performed by Paris Chansons), Simona completely inhabits each character, creating an intimacy with the audience that is more akin to a family gathering underneath the stars than a simple black box theater. She is a powerful presence and effortlessly charms and engages the audience for the duration of the one hour performance. Each of the sisters has her own distinct voice, accent, and movement. It was a marvel to see Simona shift her body and energy into each character, her intensity and vigor nuanced, but never wavering.

Photo by Rasika Ruwanpathirana

Photos by Rasika Ruwanpathirana

The Migrant Narrative
The fourth character in Lvov is based on Simona herself, “Sandy” named for the character in Grease. She recounts her first-generation experience – not being Russian enough for her cultural community, not American enough to the world she was born into; her mother wanting her to marry a “nice Russian Jewish boy” to the exclusion of Sandy’s own aspirations. Her dream is to act, perform, live a creative life, which she does.   Following in the tradition of the matriarchs in her family she moves west to Los Angeles in order to pursue that dream – all part and parcel of The Immigrant Narrative.

In a lot of bilingual plays, there is an underlying (and often unnecessary) concern with not wanting to alienate a predominantly monolingual audience by having a bunch of dialogue in a language they might not understand. As an audience member who has a basic familiarity with a non-English language, the practice is frustrating and jarring. Simona respected and trusted her audience enough not to talk down to them by following every non-English line with a translation.  Instead, Simona used context (as any good writer does) and props to invite the audience into her trilingual (English, Russian, Yiddish) experience. It shows that she is an artist that has found her voice and believes in it wholeheartedly, enough to trust her audience doesn’t need spoon feeding.

These specific experiences make Lost in Lvov just one of many quintessential Migrant L.A. stories that exemplify not only the performance culture of Los Angeles, but the entire region’s exquisite, beautiful, mosaic personality.  Whether the dream is to make it in “show business” or make a home in a war-free, impoverished country, Los Angeles – like America – is a dream beacon for so many people. Lvov beautifully carries on the dreamer’ tradition.

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Lost in Lvov itself has a migratory history. Simona, a graduate of CalArts’ MFA Acting program, has performed Lost in Lvov at Highways Performance Space in addition to her Fringe Festival residency at Schkapf. She and Lvov return to the motherland, New York City, in November as part of the 2014 United Solo festival, “the worlds largest solo festival.”

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Conceived, Written, Directed, Choreographed, and Performed by Sandy Simona
Original Dramaturgical Development  Assistance by Caitlyn Conlin & Marina McClure
Live Music performed by Paris Chansons