Marianna Staroselsky was confused when her family moved to the United States from Russia when she was just over 6 years old.
"My mother told me we were going to my favorite beach vacation spot on the Crimean Sea," she said. "Instead, we found ourselves in the midst of a Midwestern suburb, welcomed by synagogue-affiliated volunteers."
The effect of her experiences as a Jewish refugee helped shape her identity. Staroselsky examines this theme in her new play, "Cry Baby Meets Audrey Hepburn." "I haven't seen many relatable plays about the Russian Jewish emigration experience, and this is a story worth exploring," she said.
Staroselsky's objective is to create work that has sociological and cultural impact. A PhD candidate in Comparative Human Development at the University of Chicago, "My dissertation explores identities and the complex weirdness of being a person in modern society (using) theater to reveal the hidden metrics, identities and rhythms of everyday life," she said.
A playwright, producer and performer, Staroselsky has worked with The New Colony, Stockyards Theatre Company, Lama Theatre Company, Athena Theatre Company, and others. Her plays have been produced in Chicago and New York.
"Cry Baby," a surrealistic, poetic memoir, follows Olya's journey as she pieces together her identity through her emigration from the USSR as a Jewish refugee to the American Midwest, memories of a harsh yet imaginative childhood, her hellish dating life as a young woman, and her family members' perspectives on who Olya should ultimately become.
"I drew on my life history and the life histories of family members," she said. "I used memoir and poetry to create the style and rhythm of the piece, and went back to the Russian folklore that shaped my childhood and interviewed my grandfather to dig deeper into our family love stories."
Ann Kreitman directs the play, which is being co-produced by the Twenty Percent Theater Company and The Cornservatory with support from the Jewish United Fund's Russian Jewish Division and the Genesis Philanthropy Group, through the
Performances run from March 24 through April 10, with Meet-the-Artists events March 26 and 27. The show begins at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, and 6:30 p.m. on Sundays, at The Cornservatory, 4210 N. Lincoln Ave. Tickets are $20 and
The Jewish United Fund impacts every aspect of local and global Jewish life, providing human services for Jews and others in need, creating Jewish experiences and strengthening Jewish community connections. Its Russian Jewish Division Tikkun Fellowship, funded by the Genesis Philanthropy Group, helps develop and support projects created by Russian-speaking Jewish individuals ages 22 to 40. Selected individuals receive a grant of up to $3,000 to develop projects that engage the community in a meaningful and significant way. For information, visit