REVIEW:  The Arlekin Players powerful and interactive ‘The Gaaga’ (The Hague) brings war under the microscope

What if during the pain and strife of war, leaders were rounded up and required to stand trial for war crimes?  What if during that trial, the very nature of war is peeled away to only exact more questions?

The Arlekin Players are known for daring and original productions fueled with a strong and universal message and this time, the audience had a say in this interactive trial through the eyes of a child.

Taisiia Fedorenco as Taya in Arlekin Players ‘The Gaaga’ Photo by Irina Danilova

Innovatively written and directed by Sasha Denisova, Arlekin Players Theatre and the Zero-G Virtual Theatre Lab presented The Gaaga (The Hague) live and in person at Beat Brew Hall in Harvard Square in Cambridge, MA as well as a virtual option from June 2 through June 18.  This show contained some adult themes and is 2 hours and 40 including one 10 minute intermission.  Click here for more information.

The cast of Arlekin Players ‘The Gaaga’ Photos by Irina Danilova

The Gaaga delves into some heavy and heady content, but also has its share of satiric humor and spectacle told in an interactive manner through a child’s game delivered through a dark and intriguing performance by Taisiia Fedorenco as Taya in a bomb shelter in Mariupol, Ukraine.  Taya’s “game” is a trial that Putin, portrayed with striking resemblance by hair and makeup designer Anna Furman and depicted somewhat superficially as a child would see Putin by Paulina Dubovikova, and his network of operatives is on trial for their crimes in the Ukraine.  The audience is privy to the trial and then some as each operative parade out for aiding Putin in crimes against humanity. 

It is a powerful, gritty, harrowing, tense, and deeply personal production that leaves many more questions that it does answers about war, its consequences, and the dilemma of who is truly responsible for its uprising.  Though the cast is a dynamic group made of mostly conniving and power hungry adversaries all looking for a scapegoat, The Gaaga adds unexpected dimension to this almost assuredly doomed bunch, but things are never quite as cut and dry.

Taya is not just any girl.  She wants the audience (who can choose to be part of the online jury) to not just see her as narrator and orchestrator of the game, but to get to know her by revealing her favorite soup and what she loves as evidenced by tell tale surroundings including a rocking horse, tea set, and pink doll house.  It’s such a purposefully ironic and metaphorical setting by Environmental Designer Irina Kruzhilina which perhaps symbolizes the loss of innocence as war talk overpowers a child’s playthings.  Lighting designer Kevin Fulton enhances the crucial, mood setting atmosphere from a drab and dismal Dutch prison to the satirical buoyancy of a theatrical performance.  Sound designer Brendan F Doyle and composers Szymon Orfin and Jacek Jedrasik add spectacle and with a cryptic, but at times humorous soundtrack that includes classic rock and original score.

Ilya Volok as Patruschev Photos by Irina Danilova

The originality of The Gaaga varies from treacherous individuals dancing exuberantly in strange garb to being interrogated in a bathtub through the unique lens of security cameras and other means of revelation including a bleary and bombed window.  Quite a few of the cast members make powerful impressions especially handling dual or multiple roles such as Garrett Sands as a malicious soldier, Robert Walsh as Surovikin, Joe Biden and others, but Ilya Volok as conspiracy theorist Patruschev gives a mesmerizing performance, especially in a particularly commanding, absorbing, and unsettling monologue which combines comedy and cruel irony.

Not only is the audience asked show questions as trivia during pivotal points in the production, but invites others to share their thoughts.  Some questions are tongue in cheek, but others are sure to be considered long after the production is over.

Arlekin Players Theatre and the Zero-G Virtual Theatre Lab presented The Gaaga (The Hague) live and in person at Beat Brew Hall in Cambridge, MA as well as a virtual option from June 2 through June 18.  Click here for more information.

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