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First Métis Man Of Odesa – a love story set against the backdrop of war

May 4, 2023 | Life, Community, Canada, Featured, Arts & Culture, News

Matthew MacKenzie and Mariya Khomutova in First Métis Man Of Odesa

Marco Levytsky, Edmonton

First Métis Man Of Odesa is a love story that spans an ocean and is set against the backdrop of the ongoing war in Ukraine.

Based on real events, this play is a celebration of the Ukrainian Canadian connection, in the face of a pandemic and an invasion. Award winning theatre artists and real-life married couple, Matt and Mariya, share the stage and tell this remarkable Odesa to Alberta love story.

Theatre is not new for Matthew MacKenzie (Matt), who is a citizen of the Métis Nation of Alberta as well as the founder and an Artistic Associate with Pyretic Productions, a founding member of the Pemmican Collective, and the Canadian Liaison of the Liberian Dance Troupe. The plays he has written include Bears, After the Fire and The Particulars.

But this is the first time he has acted in one of his creations. Nevertheless, he is up to the task and gives a heartfelt performance.

His wife, co-playwright and co-star Mariya Khomutova is an experienced actress. She started her theatre studies in Odesa at the age of 12 and graduated from the Kyiv National Theatre University in 2012. Khomutova has worked in two repertoire theatres in Kyiv and was the recipient of a Golden Duke Award from the Odesa Film Festival for Best Actress in Two of Us.

She gave a stirring performance. Particularly dramatic is her monologue referring to the siege of Mariupol during the early days of the war.

It also marks the directorial debut of Lianna Makuch, who is best noted for her gripping tour de force, Barvinok (originally titled Blood of Our Soil) which links the World War II experiences of her paternal grandmother with the current war in Ukraine. Lianna has a dual role as both the playwright and principal performer in Barvinok, which has garnered her awards and recognition from across the country and internationally. The production has been recognized with several artistic and community awards including the ACUA-URDC Award (2018), Anna Pidruchny Award for New Writers (2019), a Hetman Award from UCC-Alberta Provincial Council (2019) and Youth Leadership Award from the Ukrainian Canadian Congress National Council (2019). Lianna was recognized as a Top 30 Under 30 Artist by the Alberta Council for Ukrainian Arts, and the play was nominated for four Elizabeth Sterling Haynes Awards including Outstanding New Play and Outstanding Production. She is also the 2020 REACH Grant recipient, which is supporting her as she develops this story into a feature length screenplay.

“I have been witness to Matt and Masha’s love story from the beginning. It is only fitting that these two theatrical romantics would fatefully meet through the theatre,” she says.

“It was at a workshop of my play Barvinok in Kyiv that Matt and Masha first met, and a second workshop that brought Matt back to Ukraine prior to the pandemic. At the time, I had no idea that being a third wheel would grant me a unique perspective as their future director. I also had no idea exactly how quickly and significantly our worlds would change in so many ways.

“When Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine began on February 24, 2022, it was impossible to turn away. For so many people part of the Ukrainian diaspora, the war was and continues to be omnipresent. Mundane, routine tasks are weighted. News about it is inescapable. The cognitive dissonance of scrolling through Instagram dog memes followed by images of horrific Russian war crimes has been a reality for the last year. To be part of the Ukrainian diaspora is to contend with in Ukraine, and striving to not fully dissociate from your safe, physical reality in North America,” adds Makuch.

First Métis Man Of Odesa has already been presented in Kamloops and Toronto. It runs at Edmonton’s Citadel Theatre until May 13. The production is scheduled to appear at Vancouver’s The Clutch from May 25 to June 4, Saskatoon’s Persephone Theatre Oct. 11-29 and Winnipeg’s Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre Nov. 1-18.

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