‘Light From the East’


On August 7, 1991, members of New York’s La MaMa theater troupe arrived in Kiev to begin a historic collaboration on a piece about Ukrainian theater director Les Kurbas, an expressionist whose work ran afoul of Stalin’s mandatory socialist realism, leading to his murder in a 1937 purge. Of course, a different history altogether soon intervened, and the show’s final rehearsals transpired against the backdrop of the failed coup d’état that would bring down the Soviet Union. Directed by then La MaMa member Amy Grappell, Light From the East documents the trip, particularly the three surreal days following the arrest of Mikhail Gorbachev, when virtually no one knew who was running the country. Although her narration gets a bit self-aggrandizing (“I began to understand that our production was a realization of Ukrainian hope for greater freedom and democracy”), Grappell implicitly uses the juxtaposition with the martyred Kurbas to gauge her commitment to her own art. Light From the East drinks freely from the triumphalist cup of the glasnost era, but a closing dedication to the veterans of Ukraine’s 2004 Orange Revolution (the subject of Grappell’s next film) acknowledges that the struggle for democracy continues.