Can an older orphan who has been institutionalized learn how to love and bond with an adoptive family? This is one of the questions explored in the upcoming play Olya the Child by Lauren Kresowaty.
At the Vancouver Fringe Festival, playwright Kresowaty and director Aliya Griffin are putting on Olya the Child from Sept. 10 to 20 in the Emily Carr Parkade on Granville Island, in order to get their audiences talking about that very question, as well as the myriad social and emotional issues raised by international adoption.
“It’s something I’ve been interested in a long time: the challenges of international adoption, stories of feral children and their potential inability to learn to connect with other humans,” says Griffin, the founding artistic director of The Troika Collective, the theatre group producing the play.
The search for happiness
Olya the Child chronicles the journey of character Olya Kadnikova, a ten-year-old orphan who is adopted from a Russian orphanage by Deborah Johnson, a Canadian housewife and hopeful parent. Both characters see this journey as an important milestone towards finding happiness.
“Deborah couldn’t have children of her own, so she thinks bringing a child into her failing marriage would make her happy, whereas Olya has been taught that finding a family and leaving the orphanage would be her happy ending,” says Kresowaty.
Kresowaty and Griffin wanted to make sure the many complicated nuances and challenges they discovered during the course of their research play a prominent part in their story. Such issues include culture shock, language barriers and an implicit presumption of cultural superiority on the part of the adoptive parent.
“What might the search for happiness look like when we know we’re dealing with a child who has not seen a lot of love in the traditional sense and not socialized in a family dynamic?” asks Kresowaty.
While the challenges of being adopted and learning to acclimate into a new family and culture are daunting, Kresowaty and Griffin also consider the reverse situation: not being adopted.
Serving as a foil to Olya’s character and journey, a chorus of other Russian orphans whose back-stories are modelled on real-life cases are featured in the play. Among them is Anna, a 14-year-old who serves as a figurehead and caretaker of orphans who are not chosen. In the play, Anna represents the grim reality for many orphans in Russia.
“Many of those who age out of the orphanage system become prostitutes, street kids or are recruited into the army because they have nowhere else to go,” says Griffin.
“There’s a lot of stress and anxiety in starting a new life in another country,” adds Kresowaty. “But Anna provides another view: maybe it would have been worse to stay?”
Setting the stage
Doing a lot of research while writing the play, Kresowaty wanted to make sure she didn’t posit easy solutions to the issues the characters faced, but instead wanted to inspire awareness in the audience, provoking them to ask questions and reconsider set positions they may hold.
“The play allows for a conversation, not a conclusion – to be open and be a conversation starter rather than to define how the conversation is going to end,” she says.
Despite the issues raised, Griffin and Kresowaty say Olya the Child is one of the more light-hearted plays they’ve produced so far. There is, after all, joy as well as uncertainty and fun as well as anxiety, as in many life and social situations.
“It’s not totally bleak!” chuckles Griffin. “There is a whimsical style in the play. You may not have a happy ending, but not necessarily a terrible one either.”
“Human beings can overcome amazing things and where there is compassion and understanding, there is hope,” adds Kresowaty.
For more information on Olya the Child and the Vancouver Fringe Festival, visit www.vancouverfringe.com.
For information on The Troika Collective, visit www.thetroikacollective.com