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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
The Cosmonaut's Last Message to the Woman He Once Loved in the Former Soviet Union
By Jana Monji

In the Los Angeles premiere at the Open Fist Theatre, David Greig's The Cosmonaut's Last Message to the Woman He Once Loved in the Former Soviet Union the message flows under the fluid direction of Stefan Novinski. The mélange of accents, orchestrated by dialect coach Jenni Kirk, rise like a melody. Greig's characters build small fortresses of babble, using language as a means of defense, making communication impossible, even between people speaking the same dialect or language.

Betrayed by the sudden change in the political landscape, forgotten in the chaos that followed, two cosmonauts, Oleg (Peter Vance) and Casimir (Aaron Lyons), attempt to maintain their sanity. They were on a secret mission, but now they are marooned in space. Restless irritability permeates the cramped quarters and spikes every word between the two men.

Casimir imagines his daughter as an adult, wondering if she remembers him. Oleg longs to say something profoundly romantic to a woman that he once loved. In between, the men bicker and grumble in set designer Eric Hugunin's wonderfully grimy space station--a tangle of electronics, suspended at the backstage center, just above a domed area that suggests the planet Earth.

Below on earth, a long-married Scottish couple, Keith and Vivienne (Dietrich Smith and Jennifer Pennington), are perplexed at what to do when the television goes on the blink, perhaps as a result of the cosmonauts' desperate attempts to make some sort of contact.

Keith, a civil servant, later travels down to London to meet with his mistress Nastasja (Anna Khaja), a Russian prostitute. Nastasja longs for love and looks up into the sky where her father disappeared, a cosmonaut who never returned to earth. Keith, caught between Nastasja's growing possessiveness and his comfortable life with Vivienne, decides to leave his life. Deserted, Nastasja seeks comfort provided by a married Norwegian UN peace negotiator, Eric (Bjorn Johnson).

Vivienne is devastated by her husband's suicide. Her neighbor, Claire (Elizabeth Griffin), claims a vital clue is in the tie Keith bought just before he disappeared. The tie, a reproduction of a Cezanne landscape, leads Vivienne to a French mountain where she meets an isolated French UFO researcher, Bernard (Benjamin Burdick) who knows a fixed point in the sky is not a star but some type of spacecraft. He spends his time attempting to make contact with these alien creatures while shunning his fellow humans.

With these tenuously connected lives, Greig examines the obstacles people face when they try to communicate with each other and the poignant consequences of personal isolation. The ensemble aptly renders portraits of these lonely people, giving them dignity even when they are ridiculous or repugnant. Each actor illustrates different manifestations of the fear of vulnerability and the desperation for connection.

The end is, like the cosmonaut's final message, a bit of a let down. That may be because in real life, nothing is settled tidily.

The Cosmonaut's Last Message to the Woman He Once Loved in the Former Soviet Union
Writer: David Greig
Director: Stefan Novinski
Cast: Peter Vance (Oleg), Aaron Lyons (Casimir), Dietrich Smith (Keith), Jennifer Pennington (Vivienne), Anna Khaja (Nastasja), Mark Thomsen (proprietors of various bars and coffee houses), Elizabeth Griffin (Claire), Bjorn Johnson (Eric), Jessica Morris (Sylvia), Benjamin Burdick (Bernard), Weston Blakesley (Patient).
Set Design: Eric Hugunin
Light Design: Dan Reed
Sound Design: Drew Dalzell
Costume Design: Barbara Lempel
Running time: 2 hours 40 minutes.
Open Fist Theatre, 1625 N. La Brea Ave., Hollywood. (323) 882-6912.
Fridays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m.
Through Nov. 22, 2003.
Review of Oct. 19 performance.
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