Serving virtual judgment with Arlekin Players Theatre's 'The State vs. Natasha Banina'

2 minute read
The Wilma hosts a timely performance from Arlekin Players Theatre. (Image by Igor Golyak.)
The Wilma hosts a timely performance from Arlekin Players Theatre. (Image by Igor Golyak.)

There is great nostalgia for the prepandemic days of theater. I understand the desire to be present together in a room, but the focus on what we have lost renders most of us unable to see what our current dislocation offers.

Enter Arlekin Players Theatre. Combining the liveness that is unique to theater with the interactive nature and unlimited reach of Zoom, Arlekin’s The State vs. Natasha Banina is an art piece that uses the strictures of the pandemic as a first principle rather than a problem. As Igor Golyak, the show’s director, states, “We set out to create a new art form to overcome social distancing, the pandemic, and ultimately unite people in one virtual space by merging theater, cinematography, and video games.”

Life is but a dream

The piece, adapted from Yaroslava Pulinovich’s Natasha’s Dream, tells the story of Natasha Banina (played by Darya Denisova), a young woman raised in an orphanage. While there, she committed a crime of passion and was sent to jail. The audience meets her in a Zoom courtroom, where she pleads her case. What is to happen to Natasha? As the audience serves as jury, it is up to them to decide.

A New York Times Critic’s Pick, The State vs. Natasha Banina has been performed around the world and in 35 states. Part of the Wilma’s 2020-21 season, the Philadelphia performance is produced by Arlekin Players and presented by Cherry Orchard Festival.

When it comes to repressive regimes and the arbitrary nature of state action, the Wilma's founding artistic director, Blanka Zizka, and Yuri Urnov, one-third of this season's tripartite artistic codirectorship, have a profound understanding from personal experience. Zizka emigrated from Russia, Urnov from what was then Czechoslovakia.

As we hurtle toward an election that might well determine the future of our country, The State vs, Natasha Banina allows us, from the comfort of our own home to sit in judgment of another while forcing us to confront the complexity of human life.

The State vs. Natasha Banina is prime preparation for November 3.

What, When, Where, and Accessibility:

Arlekin Players Theatre presents The State vs. Natasha Banina, part of the Wilma’s 2020-’21 season. Premiering on Thursday, October 22 for one night only, view online through Zoom. Tickets are $25 and can be purchased on the Wilma's website.

The play, performed live, contains strong language depicting violence. After purchasing a ticket, a Zoom link with instructions will be sent to you. The piece will be followed by a post-show discussion.

Image description: we see only half of a person's face is pixelated, in gray and white and red, with a fully clear woman's face breaking through the pixels at the face's chin.

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