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Compensation: A Liturgy of Fact

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Reviewed by Irene Backalenick

Presented by Chornaya Koshka Alliance at Collective Unconscious, 145 Ludlow St., NYC, Aug. 16-27.

The explosion of the Chernobyl nuclear plant in the Soviet Union in 1986 bears a marked resemblance to the recent Russian submarine disaster. In both cases, the Big Cover-Up prevailed, with the government hiding its own culpability, at the cost of saving its people.

In "Compensation," playwright Sergei Kurginian sets forth the shocking facts surrounding Chernobyl. Some 8,000 deaths were the immediate result, followed by an indeterminable human toll. The government's subsequent dealings with the victims were totally unrealistic, perhaps deliberately so, blinding itself to the scope of the disaster.

"Compensation" features eight actors as workers involved in the Chernobyl clean-up, plus a radio commentator, and a psychologist/interviewer. (The piece, which was first staged in Moscow, has been translated for this American production by Carolyn Kelson with Alex and Helen Prokhorov).

The play's ironic title derives from the "compensation" given the unprotected workers, who were paid a few rubles for their deadly work. These so-called "liquidators" numbered some 200,000 Russians.

The information itself is so devastating that it needs no theatrical adornment. Unfortunately, directors Carolyn Kelson and Alexandra López have chosen to mount the piece with actors moving about the stage. A straightforward reading (with actors seated on stools) would have been less distracting and more to the point. The material says it all.

Still, the directors have corralled a fine cast, with Laurie Muir, Candice Owens, Pia Caro, Margo Gezairlian Grib, Mary Kay Adams, Robert Jimenez, John Doerner, and Michael Aquino. Muir, Caro, and Owens, in particular, give powerful performances.

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