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Letters from a hermit raised in the Siberian wilderness

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Joseph Shragge co-wrote and co-directs the play Yev, which is showing at the MAI this month. (Heather Solomon photo)

Relationships may not be the first thing one thinks of when it comes to the life of a hermit, but Joseph Shragge, who co-wrote the play Yev with Alison Darcy, says that, “What you think is going to be a solo performance turns out to be duets, different ones in each section of the play.”

That’s because the writing partners, who are also co-directing Yev at the Montréal arts interculturels (MAI) from March 14-24, started the project by writing letters to one another, in character.

Yev, which is short for Yevgenia, is the protagonist, a woman who was raised as a fugitive, hiding in the wilds from religious persecution.

The second correspondent is a Russian geologist who discovered the family’s whereabouts during a helicopter survey of the area and pitched his tent, so to speak, beside them.

He may or may not be romantically involved with Yev, who is now 70 years old, and the only member of her family who survived.

The third letter writer is Mathew, a McGill University biology student who is fascinated with Yev’s situation and brings modern influences into her life, for better or worse.

The real exchange of letters was facilitated during a period two years ago when the Scapegoat Carnivale Theatre Company co-founders were temporarily working on projects in different cities.

Darcy was in Vancouver and Shragge was in Montreal. It was Darcy who came up with the idea of a play about a woman who has grown up in an uninhabited area of Siberia, after reading a newspaper article about the true story of Agafia Karpovna Lykova, who was discovered living in the Western Sayan mountains.

Shragge and Darcy’s fictionalized letters evolved into actors reading their content in the first half of the drama. The second half of the play has the actors assuming the roles, in costume, and speaking the remaining letters by themselves.

The format is called “epistolary storytelling,” but the playwrights have added yet another angle to the work.

“When we were looking for an actor to play the geologist, someone suggested Sasha Samar, but he speaks only Russian, Ukrainian and French. We really liked him for the role, so we had this idea to translate his part into Russian, and then Davide Chiazzese will play a forest ranger who’s been bringing supplies to Yev and translates for her (and the audience).”

The translator is needed not only for Russian, but for Yev’s altered manner of speech, since she was isolated for 35 years, before she made contact with the outside world.

Darcy acts the role of Yev and had to learn a monologue in Russian, as well as the odd speech patterns. She also designed the set.

Trevor Barrette plays the McGill student.

“We’re using the MAI space in an unconventional way, so we’re only going to have 50 seats and there are nine performances,” says Shragge.

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Yev was initially workshopped through Infinitheatre’s Quebec English-language Playwrights’ Unit and given a reading at the Centaur Theatre in 2016.

Last year, the National Arts Centre in Ottawa helped develop it through its funding program called the Collaborations. The Cole Foundation’s intercultural theatre grant program contributed to the show, as well.

Scapegoat Carnivale just came off the high of having their production of Sapientia win Best Independent Production at the Montreal English Theatre Awards.

“Next, we want to work again with puppets and objects. We’re thinking of doing a show for young audiences,” says Shragge, who has a three-month-old daughter at home.

 

 

Tickets for Yev can be purchased by phone at 514-982-3386, or online at scapegoatcarnivale.com or m-a-i.qc.ca.