'First Métis Man of Odesa' by Matthew MacKenzie and Mariya Khomutova
Now onstage at The Theatre Centre
Art imitates life imitates art. An extraordinary example of this adage is now playing at the Theatre Centre in Toronto. ‘First Métis Man of Odesa’ by Matthew MacKenzie and Mariya Khomutova is produced by Punctuate! Theatre and The Theatre Centre. A true tale of love, marriage and family is told by the very couple themselves – the very couple who both wrote the play and performed the play. To publicly bare your own life and soul – its pain and its hope is a remarkable achievement.
Matthew MacKenzie, artistic director of Punctuate!Theatre, travels to Odesa for some theatre workshops. He meets Mariya Khomutova, an actor from Kiev, and they slowly fall in love. Their relationship grows even among the most dire worldly events including the covid pandemic and the brutal attack by Russia. In spite of this and the fact that they come from opposite sides of the globe, Mariya becomes pregnant, they marry in Odesa and somehow they get to Canada to start a new life. This is a tale of contrasts which includes the pain of guilt and shame, and the hope of love.
The strength of this production comes not only from the authenticity of the story but also from the very genuine performances of Mr. MacKenzie and Ms. Khomutova. Reinforcing the emotions of the play is the creative lighting and projection design of Amelia Scott.
Mr. MacKenzie appears timorous and apprehensive in the beginning. This was not a weakness – he became charming. His constant questioning of decisions and fate becomes integral to their relationship. His halting manner and dry humour draw the audience in. He is often so deadpan that the poor pan never had a chance.
Ms. Khomutova is equally charming, but her power comes through in the darker moments of the story. Her pain is, again, genuine – to relive an actual agony in front of an audience takes both strength and talent.
The writing reflects the yin and yang of life’s humour and tragedy. Hilarious references such as a Kelsey Grammar forehead or the origins of Boston (not) Pizza contrast with the horrors of the pandemic and the war. The contrasts in their personalities include his pragmatism against her romantic side. She prefers the classics compared to his passion for more contemporary works. Her momentary contempt for the very work they are performing is a brutally dark juncture in the play.
Two brilliant soliloquies in the second half of the play were astounding as they dug deep into each of their tortured moments.
As mentioned, the work of Amelia Scott and her projection design was stirring. Her images were not a subtle echo of the story. They were full-throated blasts of energy that both moved the story along and reminded us of the horror and the beauty of the narrative. Images included striking northern lights, looming clouds of war, and a frightening floor of blood. An image of light moving up or down was a simplistic, but powerful reminder of airplanes leaving or landing.
Again, the contrasts of war and peace, life and romance or the clashes of cultures made this work robust and potent. However, the true strength of ‘First Metis of Odesa’ was the courage of this creative pair to share, without dilution, their pain and joy.
‘First Métis Man of Odesa’ by Matthew MacKenzie and Mariya Khomutova
Performers: Matthew MacKenzie and Mariya Khomutova
Director: Lianna Makuch
Production Design: Daniela Masellis
Projection Design: Amelia Scott
Performances run through April 8, 2023.