When we think about immigrants trying to come to the U.S., we immediately conjure up images of Latinos at our southern border trying to get into the country. Over the years, immigrants have sought to come to America to escape their difficult lives and start anew. Quotas to keep foreigners out have regularly stopped them. In the play, “The Last Parade” at InterAct Theatre Company, we encounter a Jewish family in Kiev in 1991, that is trying to get out of Russia. It is a most powerful drama as each person wants, no needs a different scenario to try to go on with his or her life. This world premier by Stephanie Satie is the story of these five people and it is one of the best ensemble pieces I have ever seen.
The family consists of a mother, a father, two grown children, and a grandfather. The mother, Zoya, has just received the ok from the Israeli government that the family can go to Israel. She is thrilled. But the daughter, Anya has dreamed of going to the United States, more so, since a visit with her aunt, who migrated to California a few years earlier. She hates the idea of going to Israel and has even gotten a lottery ticket, which if she wins, will give the family passage out of Russia and to America. Mother and daughter argue over their differences, but also over the timing of their emigrating, since there are deadlines that conflict.
The son, Borya, is hesitant to leave at all. He is managing better than the rest as he is employed by the Russian mob and gets certain privileges. When he visits his family, he always brings presents for all, including food, to stock the refrigerator. He is also the occasional narrator and though the characters speak with American accents- though we know they are speaking Russian- when he talks to the audience, he speaks with a Russian accent.
The grandfather, Yasha, lives with the family. He tries to manage, but it is a struggle for this aging man. Jews had already been getting out or trying to get out of Russia and Ukraine since the 1880’s. But in 1991, it had become harder to get an invitation to come to the U.S. and just as hard to get an exit visa. Yasha offers a kinder, gentler approach to the family struggle, but we understand he will go along with whatever the family decides.
Applying for a visa meant that the Russian authorities knew you were trying to leave. As a result, though the country seemed to welcome the departure of Jews, they were also losing many professionals. They often punished those who were trying to leave, including Leon, a scientist, and the father in this story.
Leon’s story is the most complicated of all. We watched as this clearly depressed man tries to figure out just what to do. We learn that when a child, he lost his father who died with some 30,000 other Jews in a mass killing by the Nazis with Ukrainian assistance at Babi Yar. But even he has confused feelings about leaving.
What makes this play so fascinating is the way Satie seamlessly interweaves the stories. We are watching more than five characters; we are peering in at a family as it tries to cope with the choices they must make to create a safe future. We are constantly wondering what will happen next just as they are. Life is a parade, says one of the characters and we are wondering which parade route will they take.
This review would not be complete without kudos to the incredibly strong cast. Rather than single out each has portrayed a very real character with a powerful performance. Director Seth Rozin has put together an amazing production with a play that he found on a website, a play that had never been produced before, and directed it so effectively, that I am sure than when other theaters around the country learn of it, it will be produced across the U.S.A.
“The Last Parade” InterAct Theatre Company at The Drake, 302 S. Hicks St., Philadelphia, PA 19102, 215-568-8079. interacttheatre.org Thru February 19, 2023.