'This was a Covid romance where my wife Mariya were able to get married and welcome our son into this world, against all odds.'
Credit: Nastya Gooz. Matthew appears with his bride Mariya
What an interesting name for a theatre – ‘Punctuate! Theatre’. This name caught my eye immediately and I wanted to find out more.
And there is more.
Recently I received a notice about Punctuate Theatre’s touring production of the world premiere of ‘First Métis Man of Odesa’ that will run in the Franco Boni Theatre at Toronto’s Theatre Centre. Punctuate bills the production as a ‘romantic comedy for an unpredictable world.”
‘First Métis Man of Odesa’ is now playing in Kamloops BC until March 25. The production then travels to Toronto at The Theatre Centre from March 30 – April 8. It will then travel to Edmonton’s Citadel Theatre from April 22 – May 13 with its final stop in Vancouver from May 25 – June 4, 2023.
Written by Matthew MacKenzie and Mariya Khomutova and directed by Lianna Makuch, this world premiere according to Punctuate’s website is “based on actual events. This captivating real-life love story is set against the backdrop of the COVID pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Award-winning playwright Matthew MacKenzie joins forces with his wife, award-winning Ukrainian actress Mariya Khomutova, to tell the story of their COVID courtship and share an intimate perspective on the personal impacts of the war in Ukraine.”
I had the opportunity to conduct an interview via email with Matthew MacKenzie. He trained at Montréal’s National Theatre School in their Playwriting Program led by Brian Drader:
The name ‘Punctuate! Theatre’ immediately captured my attention. Could you tell me about its genesis?
"I was not with the company when it was founded, but my Managing Director Sheiny Satanove says “The name Punctuate! Theatre was a collaborative effort between the five founding members. In their initial meetings, they determined what type of theatre they were interested in making - subversive, relevant, and thought-provoking. It was important to them (and still is to the company today) to use our productions to give audiences something to think about, to ‘punctuate’ their thoughts. From there the name was born!”
In your professional opinion, how have the changes from the worldwide pandemic affected where you see Punctuate! Theatre headed in future.
"The changes forced us to stop touring our work for a couple of years, but we are happy to be touring the country again in ‘23 with ‘First Métis Man of Odesa’. One of the exciting things to come out of the pandemic is a virtual Indigenous playwriting unit we have formed with our partners: the Pemmican Collective. It went so well during the height of the pandemic that we decided we wanted to continue with it into the future. We are currently supporting the development of fifteen Indigenous projects through the unit."
Tell me about the plot of ‘First Métis Man of Odesa’ to whet future audience appetite.
"The play follows my partner Mariya Khomutova and my love story from a meeting during a theatre workshop in Ukraine, to Mariya visiting me in Toronto, to me returning to Ukraine, where I met Mariya’s parents in the magical city of Odesa. Two days after I flew back to Canada after that trip, Covid really hit, and countries closed their borders–so we suddenly didn’t know when we would be able to see one another again. A month after that trip, we learned that Mariya was pregnant. So I had to figure out how to fly across the world in the midst of the pandemic and sort of sneak into Ukraine.
I was able to do this after we had been apart for four months and we married on a perfect summer morning in Odesa. Back in Canada, we had to jump through many bureaucratic hoops, with Mariya finally accessing healthcare shortly before the birth of our son, Ivan. We were just about to return to Odesa for our son to meet his grandparents there when the Russians launched their full-scale invasion. Since that time, when pretty much everyone my wife has ever known has had their lives turned upside down, we have welcomed my mother-in-law Olga and contended from afar with the horror Putin is unleashing on Ukraine."
From the release I received, the play was presented as a radio play at Factory Theatre during the height of the lockdown in 2021. It was written by you and directed by Nina Lee Aquino. This March, 'First Métis Man of Odesa' makes its on-stage debut and offers a continuation of the initial story told in the radio play.
Have you made any major changes from the radio play script to the one that will be presented this month?
"The big difference is that Russia had not invaded Ukraine when we did the radio play, so the effects the invasion had on Mariya and I provided the inspiration, both dark and hopeful, for the second half of the play."
It has been wonderful to return to the theatre even though we are still in Covid’s embrace. Again, in your professional opinion, why is it important for audiences to see ‘First Métis Man of Odesa’?
"This was a Covid romance, where Mariya and I were able to get married and welcome our son into this world, against all odds. I think people will respond really positively to a good news story coming out of this terrible time. And much like Covid, the invasion has had a profound impact on our lives but has been something out of our control. I think seeing the human side of how the invasion has affected people will really resonate with folks."
Once the run of the play has concluded at the Theatre Centre, what’s next for Matthew MacKenzie?
"I’ll be travelling to South Africa to participate in a residency in Johannesburg at The Centre For The Less Good Idea, where I will be developing a new play titled Genital Posturing Of The Vervet Monkeys Of South Africa."
To learn more about Punctuate Theatre, visit www.punctuatetheatre.com. To purchase tickets for the Toronto production at The Theatre Centre, call 416-538-0988 or visit www.theatrecentre.org.