As the audience hum dies down in the Rice Theatre, playwright Matthew MacKenzie takes the stage. He opens with usual pre-show content: a Treaty Acknowledgement and a generous thanks to the Citadel Theatre’s primary sponsors. This is when something different happens.
Instead of requesting we silence our phones and enjoy the show, Matthew opens with a declaration: “I’m not an actor.” Instead, in Punctuate Theatre’s newest production, he’ll be playing himself.
Even without this declaration, it would immediately be clear to audiences that the story that follows is a personal one. Deeply lived in and completely heartwarming, First Metis Man of Odesa is so many things: a long-distance love story, a pandemic love story, a wartime love story. And it is a true testament to the talent of Matthew and his counterpart Mariya Khomutova (also playing herself) that they manage to pull off every aspect off without a hitch.
The two meet in Kyiv, where Matthew is travelling for a theatre research trip and Masha is an actor (“three handshakes away from Stanislavski”). After Matthew’s departure, they begin exchanging emails, quickly realizing that their connection isn’t anything ordinary.
Matthew and Masha’s story picks up speed and these two actors do a great job of sweeping audiences up in the whirlwind of new love. Their romance journeys back and forth between Odesa and Toronto, with the help of images projected onto the stage (designed by Amelia Scott). The simple set of two chairs and translucent curtains also serves as the perfect backdrop for this stunning journey, becoming both physical and symbolic reminders of the couples shifting separation and closeness.
First Métis Man of Odesa expertly navigates the thin line between comedy and tragedy, as this lighthearted narrative takes on real world implications in the last half of the show. When Russia invades Ukraine, Masha’s whole life is turned upside down. The preceding events–an unexpected pregnancy and even a global pandemic–don’t compare to the turmoil of watching her homeland be destroyed. But, thanks to MacKenzie and Khomutova’s script and Lianna Makuch’s electric direction, these moments are counterbalanced with levity, as they struggle to sleep-train their newborn and Matthew goes toe-to-toe with his mother-in-law. These tonal shifts never feel abrupt or disorienting. Instead, audiences will be laughing in one moment and tearing up in the next.
Heartwarming, hilarious, and honest, First Métis Man of Odesa is a stunning story of love, loss, and the power of art. Don’t miss it.
First Métis Man of Odesa is on at The Citadel Theatre until May 13th. Get tickets here.