Sometimes a play and a venue have a special chemistry of their own. Entering the Annex Theatre off East Pike Avenue in down town Seattle October 1, I had high expectations for the new dance-theatre show 50 Heartbreaks (And I’m Still in Love with YOUkraine), which plays through October 4. From one’s ascent of the worn wood and dramatic red walls of the stairwell to the snug black box of the theatre, the storied intimacy of the Annex was just the right setting for a melancholy, sometimes tragicomic showcase of love and loss, war and post-war struggles, home and country.
The concept of the play was developed by Jenna Bean Veatch and Maria Sonevystky. It is performed by the multitalented Veatch and actress, singer, musician Nadia Tarnawsky. Beginning with heartbreak Number 1 and progressing numerically—but not chronologically—the performance carefully entwines mixed mediums to recount stories through the dismantling effects of WWII in Ukraine, all among artist Susannah Anderson’s hand-painted cardboard panels depicting symbols of the eponymous heartbreaks.
It all begins with Veatch alone, on stage as if in her bedroom dancing with child-like freedom to Ray Price’s “Heartaches By The Numbers.” This original golden era music might seem a little on the nose, but it was more of a thesis than a contrivance, paired with Veatch’s evocative dance, moving from love to heartbreak. Jenna’s expressive performance complemented Tarnawsky’s, whose own heartache was framed by sobering reflection on her Ukrainian heritage and family history.
Tarnawsky sang folk songs from various Ukrainian regions, igniting the room with the soul of her country. Veatch, too, enlightened the audience with her voice while playing a handheld string instrument. The incorporation of short films written and performed by Jenna added yet another layer to the performance, creating an experience as diverse as the emotions charted, from the tender to the harrowing.
It is quite a feat for two performers to maintain such a harmony and rhythm as they take contrasting approaches to their subject, integrating personal, intimate stories with grand, human tragedies—namely the history of Ukraine during the 1939 and the stifling, strangling control of Hitler and Stalin that followed. In light of such grand gestures, the individual stories of young women—and even rabbits—do not seem any less insignificant, but rather integral parts of the larger human drama. As part of the audience, one is inclined to feel equally involved and moved.
I personally wanted to clap in admiration and empathy for every heartbreak, but that would have disrupted the flow of the lean and well-paced 75-minute program. Each character opened for the crowd the human condition in gestures grand and small. Veatch and Tarnawsky should be congratulated for the execution and careful craft of their performance—and also for the courage of the roles they chose.
50 Heartbreaks (and I’m Still in Love with YOUkraine) is playing nightly through October 4 at Annex Theatre.