Lana Kouchnir’s Vovk (pronounced voh-vick) is a work-in-progress being presented as part of undercurrents’ Late Night series. In its current iteration Vovk leaves more questions than it does answers, but the content is already fascinating enough that I eagerly anticipate the completed play.
Vovk follows Sasha, an burgeoning writer with apparent personal issues, as she goes on a retreat with a mentor writer whose zen-like attitude contrasts with Sasha’s own anxieties. Woven in with this narrative are stories from Sasha’s matrilineal ancestors, who faced persecution in Ukraine from accusations of witchcraft, and rituals in which Sasha herself becomes the wolf that forms part of her and her ancestors’ identities (vovk is the Ukrainian word for wolf).
The separate themes – calming anxieties, cultural diaspora, witchcraft, animal instincts – are individually interesting, but in the 30-minute version at undercurrents the connections between these themes aren’t as apparent as I imagine they will be in the completed play. This version of Vovk seems to be only a segment/pastiche of what will be a longer finished product, one which will likely run closer to the one hour mark to tie together all these threads.
Kouchnir throws herself into performing, playing all roles which include the members of the writing circle that Sasha attends. This section seemed longer than necessary since the main information we learn are the details of Sasha’s retreat which come at the end of the segment, and the impersonations (of the circle leader and a critical colleague) that build up to that moment seem more like superficial social commentary than the deep introspection that marks the other segments, particularly as this segment alone seems to be played for laughs. Kouchnir keeps herself up the task of running through all these characters and maintains energy throughout the ritualistic segments, which demand serious vocal intensity.
There appears to be more props than strictly necessary for a 30-minute excerpted presentation, but in order to give more of an idea of the sort of visuals to be expected in the final product this preponderance of props makes more sense, especially as there aren’t a lot of options when it comes to dressing the stage in the Arts Court Studio lobby.
Vovk needs more work before it’s finished, but it’s already deeply intriguing. As a Toronto-based artist, I hope Kouchnir brings Vovk back to Ottawa (perhaps as a mainstage show at undercurrents next year or in 2019?) to satisfy the suspense that she generates with this testing-of-the-waters.
Written and Performed by Lana Kouchnir
Dramaturgy by d’bi.young anitafrika
Stage Managed by Caterina Fiorindi
Running Time: 30 minutes
In the Arts Court Studio
February 9, 10 and 11, 10:30 pm