Welcome to Sacred Fools Theater Company, est. 1997

A Gulag Mouse

by Arthur M. Jolly
directed by Danielle Ozymandias

APRIL 14 - MAY 21, 2016
Opening Thursday, April 14 @ 8pm
then runs Fridays & Saturdays @ 8pm
plus Thursday, April 28 @ 8pm
and Sundays, May 8 & 15 @ 7pm
Previews: Fri-Sat April 8-9 @ 8pm

Tickets: $25 (Previews: $15)
Friday, April 22: Donate What You Can (see below)
(310) 281-8337 or Buy Tickets Online

IN OUR NEWLY-REDESIGNED, FLEXIBLE PERFORMANCE SPACE!
Black Box - 6322 Santa Monica Blvd.

LOS ANGELES PREMIERE!  In the pressure cooker of a Siberian gulag, five women will learn to work together... or die trying. Grim tragedy and dark humor coexist in this wartime thriller.

Reviews

"It engages us on a visceral level, breathing life into what is frankly a truly extraordinary set of words strung together. This is a performance that will remain with you, I promise." -Night-Tinted Glasses

"...intense, sobering... it affects us — because the artists do focused, felt work." -Theatre Ghost

"...a gripping eighty minutes of tense conflict... thought-provoking in concept and gripping in performance..." -Paul Myrvold's Theatre Notes

"...remarkable..." -Gia on the Move

Read more!

Awards

NOMINATED FOR AN OVATION AWARD!
Sound Design (Intimate Theatre) - Matt Richter

Friday, April 22: DONATE WHAT YOU CAN. It's "Pay What You Can" with a twist! Half of all proceeds for this performance will be donated to A New Way of Life Reentry Project, which provides housing and support services to formerly incarcerated women in South Central Los Angeles, facilitating a successful transition back to community life. Tickets that night may only be purchased at the door. Call (310) 281-8337 to make a reservation.

Photos

More Photos

Cast

Kimberly Atkinson as Masha
Heather L. Tyler as Lubov
Dana DeRuyck as Prushka
Emily Goss as Anastasia
Crystal Keith as Svetlana
Brandon Bales as Evgeny / Ivanov

Understudies

Mandi Moss as Masha
Pagan Urich as Lubov
Ilona Concetta as Prushka
Rowan Hall as Anastasia
Bree Pavey as Svetlana
Rob Lecrone as Evgeny / Ivanov

Crew

Produced for Sacred Fools by - Bruno Oliver
Assistant Director - Jacob Sidney
Stage Manager - Rebecca Schoenberg
Assistant Stage Manager - Lemon Baardsen
Set Designer - Aaron Francis
Lighting Designers - Matthew Richter & Adam Earle
Associate Lighting Designer - Andrew Schmedake
Sound Designer - Matthew Richter
Original Score - Autodealer
Costume Designer - Linda Muggeridge
Fight Director - Mike Mahaffey
Assistant Fight Director - Lacy Altwine
Fight Captain - Celina Surniak
Properties Crew - Brandon Clark , Lisa Anne Nicolai & Emily Donn
Tattoo Design - Marian Gonzalez
Casting Coordinator - Emily Donn
Key Art - Chris Hutchings
Performance Photography - Jessica Sherman Photography

- Sacred Fools Company Member

Originally Produced by Babes With Blades, Chicago, Illinois, USA

Press

Theatre Ghost

“GULAG MOUSE” ASKS: WHAT LIES BEYOND SURVIVAL?

The Russian gulags — prison camps in the frozen north of Siberia — operated for more than four centuries, swallowing hundreds of millions of lives into forced labor.

The camps (known as katorgas under the Tsars) were the standard punishment for anyone accused of a crime, from plotting a revolt to stealing a loaf of bread — or merely irritating a well-connected neighbor.

Most prisoners, of course, died of starvation, cold, and constant physical abuse. Some survived. But what could emerge from such inhumane hells?

Arthur M. Jolly’s A Gulag Mouse considers this question, taking us to a primitive camp building where five condemned women share two bunks, a cot, and an iron stove. We arrive with Anastasia, a young woman who has become a widow by killing her abusive husband.

We share in her discovery of the others — angry, bullying Masha; quiet, street-tough Svetlana; cowering Prushka, the “mouse”; and pretty Lubov, who sells sex to buy them all food and protection from a guard. When Masha critically injures Lubov, the group demands that Anastasia, also young and pretty, take up her duties.

In prison, there are only two things to do: fight to survive, and plan to escape. Soon, this beleaguered dysfunctional family turns their attention to escape, and the story ends with their attempt.

But the play continues. A final, dreamlike sequence calls into question everything we’ve seen. Only stories, we realize, are left — the ones survivors tell, the memories they wander through while staring out a window, and of course the official records.

As anyone living with PTSD knows, it’s impossible to emerge from hell merely sane. Who will ever know — not simply what happened, but what it cost, what surviving it demanded?

A Gulag Mouse offers an intense, sobering hour amid the worst we can inflict on one another, and in the aftermath. The play’s simulated inferno is gentler than the real thing (as it must be), but it affects us — because the artists do focused, felt work.

Emily Goss (Anastasia), in an open and honest portrayal, gains our trust in the early scenes and leads us into the depths and beyond. Kimberly Atkinson (Masha) magnificently terrorizes the room, while letting us see the deep uncertainty that keeps her from actually leading. Crystal Keith jabs and retreats as Svetlana, slowly establishing her emotional authority; and Heather L. Tyler gives the jaded Lubov a full range, from sweet nobility to frank viciousness. Meanwhile, hidden under a blanket, Dana DeRuyck quietly gathers power, making the mouse into this tiny world’s moral arbiter.

The hand of director Danielle Ozymandias is (like the mouse) unobtrusive but effective, holding us firmly in this hermetic space.
Set designer Aaron Francis transforms the Black Box into a drab, uncomfortable space, while Matthew Richter and Adam Earle’s lighting fascinates and focuses us.

Playwright Jolly has described writing A Gulag Mouse as a “desperate attempt” to honor women who survive suffering. In choosing the Siberian prison camps as his metaphor, he has given us a painful but crucial reminder of our common history — and a keen sense of what every abused human being undergoes, and loses.

--Mark Hein
© 2016 Theatre Ghost

Night-Tinted Glasses

The word "Gulag" refers to the brutal forced labor prison camps of Siberia used by the former Soviet Union. Under the circumstances one might expect a play titled A Gulag Mouse to be quite grim. Nor would you be wrong! Playwright Arthur M. Jolly took one of the worst places human beings can exist and crafted an extraordinary story from that place. A tale of five women trapped, desperate, hungry, angry, terrified and also terribly alone--even when surrounded by others in the same situation.

Anastasia (Emily Goss) has had a relatively privileged life. Note that word "relatively." Because at the end of the second world war, faced with her war hero husband entering her life once more, she killed him.

Sentenced to the Gulag, she soon meets the other prisoners in a windy wooden shack. Masha (Kimberly Atkinson), big and tough and perfectly willing to hurt others out of spite--who weirdly (or not) feels she belongs here. Lubov (Heather L. Tyler), once much prettier than she is now but with enough looks to degrade herself with an officer, thus suffering less in some ways--an unforgivable offense in some eyes. Svetlana (Crystal Keith) has seemingly turned all her emotions 'off' in order to survive. No malice there, but no compassion. Or is there? Then there is Prushka (Dana DeRuyck), sentenced to ten years for telling a joke she refuses to repeat, who has the nickname "Mouse."

There's a clue there if you pick up on it. I did not. I usually do.

But picking up clues rapidly give way as the story unfolds, as the fierce, unofficial but merciless rules the Gulag play themselves out. There is never enough food. Weakness brings instant attention. They are trapped in a frozen wilderness dozens of miles from shelter, surrounded by guards and dogs. Only the strong survive here to be released. Few prove that strong.

And yet--what is strength? How do you measure power when everything conspires to keep you weak? How far might anyone go? How much will they risk?

I will frankly say this play surprised me throughout--which remains one of my favorite experiences in theatre. Everything made sense, though. As time went on, and new surprises emerged, the importance of so many tiny details became increasingly vivid. But the script is dead words without the actor. Every single person in the show proved a marvelous actor, up to and including Brandon Bales in the double role of Evgeny and Ivanov, both small yet utterly vital. Director Danielle Ozymandias likewise achieved marvels. First and foremost she cast the play! I know from experience that is three quarters of the job and she did that part magnificently!

But more--and this oddly enough is where many directors do sometimes fall--she clearly kept the pace right. Rhythm is weirdly important in life as well as art, and even the business of maintaining tension amid silence forms a huge part of that. It engages us on a visceral level, breathing life into what is frankly a truly extraordinary set of words strung together. This is a performance that will remain with you, I promise.

--David MacDowell Blue
© 2016 Night-Tinted Glasses

Paul Myrvold's Theatre Notes

After the Second World War, five women in a grim, Soviet gulag sentenced to years of toil and hunger, struggle to survive the bleak winters, while suffering the humiliating attention of the guards. Arthur M. Jolly’s A Gulag Mouse, now in production at Sacred Fools Theater Company, is no voyeuristic, sexist, women-in-chains titillation. No, rather, it is a gripping eighty minutes of tense conflict spiked with violent outbreaks among women whose only goal is survival.

Lubov (Heather L. Tyler), a woman of beauty, has sex with a guard in return for extra food and a warmer place to sleep in the crude dwelling the women occupy. She shares some of the food with her roommates. Prushka (Dana DeRuyck), called Mouse for her shy and hesitant ways, is victimized by Masha (Kimberly Atkinson), a short-fused, brutal woman seething with anger. Masha, with her quick temper and intimidating manner, fancies herself the boss and despises Lubov for her looks and privileges. And Svetlana (Crystal Keith) stands apart, neutral, but strong. Masha doesn’t mess with her.

Into this wretched, emotional stew enters a new inmate, Anastasia (Emily Goss). Luminously beautiful, with blonde hair and soft hands, she has been sentenced to the gulag for murdering her husband Evgeny (Brandon Bales). The decorated war hero, after a passionate kiss, restarts the abuse he delivered five years before, laying hands on her, choking her, accusing her of infidelity and promising more to come. In a blaze of defensive fury, Anastasia plunges a knife into him, taunting him with the news of a five-year-old son he will never see. She may look delicate, but she has power.

There are many outbreaks of physical violence in A Gulag Mouse, mostly initiated by big, strong Masha. The close confines of Sacred Fools' new space, the Black Box, make this rough-and-tumble action thrilling. At some point all the women fight. They fight with fists and feet, with knife and stick, choking and stomping each other and the audience has a closer-than-ringside seat.

In addition to the physical conflict, there is psychological brutality. When shy Prushka attempts to tell an anecdote, Masha interrupts over and over again. At first amusing, Masha’s cruelty becomes repellent.

After the climax of the play, the script takes an unexpected dénoument, a psychological turn that either explains the previous action of the play or negates it. It is puzzling and is certain to spark lively post-show discussions as the audience leaves the theatre and heads for their next stop of the evening.

This takes nothing away from the achievement of the performers, who were excellent. Combat choreography by Mike Mahaffey (assisted by Lacy Altwine and Fight Captain Celina Sumiak), although necessarily stylized, is performed flat out with aggressive vigor. The intensity of the emotions and the physicality of the playing made this audience member lean forward toward the action.

The staging of A Gulag Mouse employs the tennis-court configuration with the audience on opposite sides maximizing the playing space. The set by Aaron Francis (with lighting by Matthew Richter and Adam Earle) with its rough-hewn, clapboard walls and slapped-together bunks, calls to mind those of a German concentration camp. Costumes by Linda Muggeridge are ideal, evoking the period and circumstances of the play. The sound design by Matthew Richter adds much to the tension of the piece. Vigorous, hyper-masculine preshow singing by what I guess to be the Red Army Chorus accompanied by an underlayment of metal percussion is enough to set one’s teeth on edge. And later, the rumbling sound of a train coming into a station seems to shake and vibrate through the building. Impressive! I loved it.

A Gulag Mouse, thought-provoking in concept and gripping in performance, runs through May 21 at Sacred Fools Theater Company.

--Paul Myrvold
© 2016 Paul Myrvold's Theatre Notes

Gia on the Move

Power vs Women in “A Gulag Mouse” at Sacred Fools

“But if she could talk, she would tell you… what? That the skin can grow so tough that nothing penetrates- not the groping of men’s hands or the cutting of their whips? Or that there are places men cannot touch- places where you can remain inviolate, so deep inside, behind fences and guards and dogs, behind a thousand kalanchas, across 87 miles of frozen tundra, and that there you can stay, for years? Are these the words she is looking for? What would she say to you, if she could cry out from inside such a deep place?”

We need only pause for a moment to see the reality of prison life in A Gulag Mouse; to hear the violence of desperation.

Arthur Jolly has written, at face value, a myopic story of five women imprisoned in a brutal Siberian labor camp, without anything but what they can trade, work, lie, maim or even kill for. To the rest of the world they are forgotten. And there is nothing to hope for but survival. All of the women in A Gulag Mouse trapped as they are, will most likely not make it out alive to the end of their sentences. If any do, the scars of the mind will be far worse than the scars on their bodies.

The story centers around Anastasia, a former nurse, who, rather than succumbing to one more beating from her inordinately abusive husband, unexpectedly and unfortunately returned, alive, from the war, stabs him, which lands her in a Siberian labor camp. Once there, she must deal with and defend herself against the vicious, bunk house inmates who have constructed a depraved pecking order over food scraps, bed privileges and sexual services; an intricate, ever-shifting, codependency which has them nearly killing each other at any given moment. Anastasia’s “soft hands” and “pretty hair” become an immediate battle grounds for the other women who know her beauty is about to usurp the regular favorite and possibly any remnants of certainty they’ve worked so hard to achieve. The reality is however, that the conditions of the camp are so harsh, she probably won’t even survive the week. She is therefore, expendable.

Written as a thriller, A Gulag Mouse, currently making its Los Angeles premiere at the Black Box theater at Sacred Fools (spectacularly renovated as an intimate semi-round) certainly has guts. The raw, gray, set design by Aaron Francis enhanced by the lighting design of Matthew Richter and Adam Earle, deeply evokes the stark and tenuous conditions of the camp as does the costuming by Linda Muggeridge. And although the direction takes a slightly disorienting turn towards the end of the show, it remains steady in its horrifying, realistic impact, entrenched in Jolly’s own idea of the “inextricable experience of being a woman”. Indeed this play was written as a response to his own personal struggle of being powerless to help the most important women in his own life, at a time when they were in crisis.

There is a strong sense of “sacrifice” in this play, indeed it is an overarching thread which ultimately separates Anastasia as the new prisoner from the gang.

Also remarkable is the way Jolly has amalgamated this “scenario of a thousand lives” into a single focal point of violent abuse and reprehensible ideologies or more than acceptable social standards by the men they’ve had to defend themselves from on the outside as well as inside of the camp.

In a word, brutal.

--Tracey Paleo
© 2016 Gia on the Move


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At a Glance
A GULAG MOUSE
APRIL 14 - MAY 21, 2016
Previews April 8-9
BUY TICKETS ONLINE
Discounts for Group Sales
Written by
Arthur M. Jolly
Directed by
Danielle Ozymandias