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In 1858 the Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko was set free after 10 years imprisonment. He met the great African-American actor Ira Aldridge

and drew his portrait. 


"Dark Night, Bright Stars" is one of those pleasant surprises… a play that actively distances itself from traditional forms of storytelling and instead communicates its messages through fragments of memories and poetry readings. On the surface level, this play is a story about two friends with similar pasts having a cultural exchange, but dig deeper and you discover themes of race and poverty, oppression and liberation, diaspora and the yearning for home. 
   "Dark Night, Bright Stars" chronicles the meeting of Ira Aldridge (Jeremy Tardy), an African-American Shakespearean actor who rose to prominence in Europe during the nineteenth century, and Taras Shevchenko (Sean Eden), the influential poet who is often credited with contributing to the rise of the modern Ukrainian language. In a meeting facilitated and recorded by Katya Tolstoy (Maria Pleshkevich), Aldridge and Shevchenko kindle a friendship with one another, finding solace in their troubled pasts of servitude and loneliness. This friendship culminates with Shevchenko painting Aldridge's portrait before the two depart, promising to meet again, a promise that would never be realized.
Visually the play is striking… set design is minimalist, consisting of a single table, a chair, and an easel, pushed off to the side so the attention is brought to the actors in the center stage. The backdrop is beautifully designed, adorned with a decorative carved border and projections of still-lifes during flashback and poetry sequences. Younger versions of the characters enter and exit through a door in this backdrop, effortlessly establishing the fact that they are visions of the past. 
Timothy Esteves, New York Theatre Wire, June 3, 2016

The show opens with the bandurist Julian Kytasty in an alcove that is part of the simple yet beautiful set design by Watoku Ueno. A bare background is outlined with woodcuts and used to show off the projections by Waldemart Klyuzko, the first of which is a painting by Shevchenko depicting a girl in bright Ukrainian costume.   When Shevchenko and Aldridge met, they discovered that they were both deeply affected by the loss of their mothers when they were 9. Aldridge’s mother appears in flashback scenes. Shona Tucker stuns with her strong voice as she sings to her son, the young Ira played by Barak Tucker.
  When the translator wasn’t present, Shevchenko and Aldridge learned to communicate through the use of a few words…This is where the acting really shines. Even though Messrs. Eden and Tardy are both speaking English, we are convinced that they don’t understand each other… Another poignant moment is Shevchenko’s recitation of “It’s All the Same to Me” translated by Virlana Tkacz and Wanda Phipps… Mr. Eden’s powerful voice adds to the touching and inflammatory nature of the poem.
Olena Jennings, Ukrainian Weekly, June 26, 2016

No other recent Yara show was as popular and well-attended. Twelve packed performances is a great success for an experimental theatre… This scenario is the closest to a conventional play, and satisfied both traditional theatre-goers and modernists who expect Virlana to “deliver” the unexpected… Shevchenko was shown, not as a gilded icon, but as a PERSON who lives like everyone, suffers, experiences the hardship of exile, misses his homeland; he also rejoices and dreams of a little home and family… We hope that Yara will have the opportunity to share its “Bright Stars.” The project  deserves it. Hopefully, theatre–lovers in Chicago will invite them.
Lydia Korsun, Chas I Podii (Chicago), June 30, 2016

The concept of the play is wonderful; the acting was amazing. Powerful performances by Sean Eden (Taras Shevchenko) and Jeremy Tardy (Ira Aldridge) brought the characters to life. Maria Pleshkevich portrayed a bubbly 15-yea-old Katya (the daughter of Count Tolstoy) very well. Shona Tucker’s vocals filled the theater with passion as she played the role of young Ira’s mother. Throughout the play, the actors’ dialogue and actions were accompanied by the beautiful and flawless tones of the bandura played by Julian Kytasty who seamlessly wove together traditional Ukrainian songs with church gospel hymns.  Irena Gramiak, Our Life, July, 2016

The students of the Self-Reliance School of Ukrainian Studies in New York City had the unique chance to see a special performance of “Dark Night Bright Stars.” Talia Danysh, the school’s vice-principal, commented: “The fact that no one stirred for the entire length of the performance is a testament to the effectiveness of this brilliant play in capturing the student audience. It was not only educational, but also engaging and different from how Taras Shevchenko is usually portrayed. Students talked about the play for many hours, and I believe they felt a closeness to this Ukrainian hero because they witnessed him as an everyday man struggling for human rights and freedom… The haunting bandura accompaniment emphasizes the roller coaster of emotions and leaves the audience in an awesome trance.” A student added: “Many of us, especially immigrant groups in New York, can relate to the idea of missing home. Shevchenko missed his home but he still knew he was Ukrainian. Aldridge missed his home, too.” 

Kristina Lucenko, Ukrainian Weekly, June 26, 2016

Video from show in Kyiv  Mykola Shkaraban as Shevchenko recites his poem "A Cloud". Jeremy Tardy as Ira Aldridge remembers his mother and her song..

created and performed by Yara Arts Group:
Sean Eden, Maria Pleshkevich, Julian Kytasty, Jeremy Tardy,
Barak Tucker & Shona Tucker

conceived & directed by Virlana Tkacz
music Julian Kytasty, set & lights by Watoku Ueno
costumes by Keiko Obremski, with projections by Waldemart Klyuzko

La MaMa press release 

June 3-19, 2016 at La MaMa ETC New York

Photos by: Pavlo Terekhov |Waldemart Klyuzko Lee Wexler


Taras Shevchenko bio & poems Shevchenko's portrait of Ira Aldridge 
of our visit to Shevchenko Museum in Kyiv

"Yara Production Looks Beyond Icons" by Virlana Tkacz

"Dark Night Bright Stars" in Ukraine - April 28 - May 11, 2014 
photos from: Kyiv Lviv Odesa

photos from: La MaMa workshop in 2014 

related events: 
My Shevchenko March 2018 Los Angeles 

Ira Aldridge & Taras Shevchenko November 2014 New York 
Two Icons and Friends with Andre de Shields | photos

Andre de Shields reads Shevchenko in Yara’s Ira Aldridge & Taras Shevchenko: Two Icons and Friends" Yara's event at the Ukrainian Museum in New York Nov 1, 2014 | video

READ poems by Taras Shevcheko in English translations



Here is what people who’ve seen the show have said:

“Fantastic Show! Everyone - GO!” Eugene Kuziw

“A real gift on a stormy Sunday afternoon, to learn of an African-American who was a well known Shakespearean actor all over Europe in 1800's and who was a close friend to Taras Shevchenko whom I never really had no connection until today... oh my god...what a life, what two lives... WONDERFUL SHOW - go see it.”  Shigeko Sara Suga

“It was extraordinary - moving, thought provoking and simply beautiful. Go see the show.” Ronya Lozynskyj

"One of my friends in San Francisco told me he'd seen both “Red Velvet” [a recent play about Ira Aldrich] and your piece and thought yours was the stronger work. Congratulations! I hope to get to see it!" Marika Kuzma

“The story of a beautiful friendship in difficult times, eloquently acted. Mind blowing bandura by Julian Kytasty. A peak theatre experience. I attended twice and that was not enough.”  Cathy Zadoretzky 

“I love this performance!” Pavlo Terekhov 

“Nadia Kizenko and I are proud to be patrons of this amazing production about the meeting of the great Black American Shakespearean actor Ira Aldridge and the former Ukrainian serf turned Ukrainian bard, Taras Shevchenko. Urging all New York area friends to see this wonderful play.” Adrian Karatnycky

"Another must-see play from Yara Arts! Don't miss last performances this coming weekend. This short play is emotional, thought-provoking and saturated with issues of self-identity, slavery/serfdom, race, nationality, censorship, arts, politics and human experience. Bravo!" Olya Yarychkivska

This was not Shevchenko the icon, but a portrayal of Shevchenko as a living, emotional and fierce artist, who wants to create and who also dreams of returning home. Director Virlana Tkacz looked beyond the stereotypes that usually encrust this artist. The memoirs of Katerina Yunge-Tolstoy fell into her hands, allowing her to create a real unpretentious but elegant flower to add to our anniversary bouquet. 

   Jeremy Tardy showed us the rich palette of his talent and his wonderfully organic acting, as he transformed into Shakespeare’s Othello as portrayed by the great tragedian.
    In "Dark Night Bright Stars,"  the young Katerina Yunge-Tolstoy is played by Maria Pleshkevych with appropriate lightness for a girl, full of childish enthusiasm. Ira’s mother is portrayed by Shona Tucker, who filled the stage space with a powerful energy and a deep voice. Barak Tucker, her 9-year-old talented son, also appears on stage. 
Special mention must be made of the musical arrangements by Julian Kytasty, which intertwine traditional Ukrainian songs with African-American Spirituals. Julian, a third generation bandurist, is on stage throughout the show. His presence works even when he is not playing his bandura and singing. Perfect projections for the show were created by Kyiv artist Waldemart Klyuzko. 
Anastasia Kanarska, Artopinion.blogspot, September 21, 2014.




The play of images in the show is so rich that it is impossible to describe the production in a few sentences… it is about the power of words and the power of art. The sensitive selection of poetry by Taras Shevchenko deeply resounds with a contemporary audience in the context of the “discussed” yearning for the homeland. So do Aldridge’s monologues and Shevchenko’s paintings. The main event of the show is creation of Shevchenko’s portrait of Aldridge. This portrait tries to capture both the outer reality and the inner world of the actor, his fears, memories and joys.

    Another form of artistic expression is the music played on the bandura by Julian Kytasty, who is always present on stage. The music includes traditional songs (both Ukrainian and African-American), as well as spirituals – a sacred folk tradition of African Americans. In the context of the greatly desired but constantly unrealized dream of returning home for both characters, the spiritual “I Will Meet You in the City of the New Jerusalem” – in the Heavenly Jerusalem or in Heaven -- becomes an outstanding moment. This song-promise which is performed by all the actors in harmony becomes the culmination of the show.
Sofia Riabchuk, Kino-teatr (Kyiv) #4, 2014

In "Dark Night Bright Stars," a multicultural production that is staged in two languages, director Virlana Tkacz wanted to show how people can communicate beyond language, how they find those threads that can connect heart to heart, soul to soul, mind to mind and create a strong, tight and honest friendship. The Yara artists showed this very successfully, using the poetry of Taras Shevchenko, old church hymns, and excerpts from Shakespeare. 
Nadia Sokolenko, Kultura i zhyttia (Kyiv), May 9, 2014.

PRESS NY Workshop

 “Dark Night Bright Stars” is a strong foundation for a future Yara performance depicting the relationship of the great Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko and the renowned African- American actor Ira Aldridge.  Watch for more to come.

Olena Jennings, Ukrainian Weekly, April 27, 2014

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