Skip to content
Join our Newsletter

Displaced Ukrainians stage play on Russian invasion at Langham Court Theatre

“When I read the script for A Dictionary of Emotions in War Time, I said, ‘We have to stage this.’ I didn’t know where, or I didn’t know how — I just knew we had to stage it,” says Karmen McNamara.

A DICTIONARY OF EMOTIONS IN WAR TIME

Where: Langham Court Theatre, 805 Langham Ct.
When: Jan. 18-21
Tickets: $19-$26 from the Langham Court Theatre box office (250-384-2142) or langhamtheatre.ca

When a screenplay about the Russian invasion of Ukraine was brought to Karmen McNamara, she vowed to find a home in Victoria for the unpublished manuscript.

“When I read the script for A Dictionary of Emotions in War Time, I said, ‘We have to stage this.’ I didn’t know where, or I didn’t know how — I just knew we had to stage it,” she said.

McNamara, founder of the Help Ukraine Vancouver Island Society, which supports displaced Ukrainians who have settled here, has spent the past 18 months getting the play stage-ready. The 80-minute two-hander, written by Ukrainian playwright Olena Astasieva, will have its world premiere at Langham Court Theatre this week, with contributions from a number of Ukrainians who relocated to Victoria after fleeing their war-torn homes.

“I am the only Canadian citizen in the cast and crew,” McNamara said. “Everybody else — actors, musicians, stage managers, stagehands — are all Ukrainian refugees.”

A Dictionary of Emotions in War Time stars Anastasiia Konstantynova (who is from Donetsk, Ukraine) and Kseniia Sinelikova (Kyiv, Ukraine), and features original music by Borys Koniukhov and Julia Frait of Victoria-based Lado Strings.

The text was written by Astasieva in the early days of the Russian invasion, and includes real-life correspondence (in Russian and Ukrainian) between the author — who relocated to Wexford, Ireland — and her friends back home in Kherson, Ukraine. Her story begins the very moment Russia has invaded the city, and details in remarkable clarity the often-deadly impact such actions have on innocent people.

Before making its way to McNamara, who is of Ukrainian descent, the play was translated into English with grant funding from the Baltimore-based Center for International Theater Development, which brings to light creative work by performing artists from around the globe. The world premiere comes at an opportune time, McNamara said.

“The war has been going on for almost two years now, and Ukraine is no longer in the headlines, in the same way it was even six months ago,” McNamara said. “It is important to remind people that this senseless war and death continues. We need to continue to support these people who are in our communities.”

A Dictionary of Emotions in War Time is a co-production between Help Ukraine Vancouver Island Society and Langham Court Theatre, with net proceeds from the production supporting displaced Ukrainians on Vancouver Island. The play is co-directed by McNamara and Diana Budiachenko, a theatre director from Odesa, Ukraine, who moved to Victoria a year-and-a-half ago.

While producers had the option to present the play in Ukrainian, McNamara said the decision was made to produce it in English so that its reach widened beyond members of Victoria’s Ukrainian community. “We definitely produced it with the intent that this is a play for Canadian audiences. It was more important to us to bring these stories to Canadians. Ukrainians know these stories. These stories are not new to them. It is important to them that we are telling it in a way that Canadians can understand and connect with.”

To date, more than 1,000 Ukrainian refugees have settled on Vancouver Island following the conflict. Money raised by A Dictionary of Emotions in War Time will help McNamara and the society continue to support them.

“We don’t want them to have to worry if there is going to be dinner on the table tomorrow.”

mdevlin@timescolonist.com