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L.A. Beat

Barvinok shows off Ukrainian resilience and culture in new play presented by New West Theatre

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Edmonton based playwright and actor Lianna Makuch’s new travelling production of “Barvinok” has taken a circuitous and serendipitous journey back to Lethbridge.


“It’s a celebration of Ukrainian resilience and strength,” Makuch said.


Lianna Makuch is excited to bring her play Barvinok to Lethbridge, Oct. 12-22. Photo by Richard Amery

“Barvinok,” which means “periwinkle” (a flower known for it’s resilience and strength, which Makuch considered an apt metaphor for the Ukrainian people) in Ukrainian, was inspired by Makuch’s discovery of her Baba’s diary of emigrating to Canada during the Second World War, a journey which ended up in Lethbridge.


“It’s a story of resilience, but most importantly it’a a story of hope,” said Makuch, who plays Hania, the main character.


The semi-autobiographical story mirrors her own journey to the Ukraine to rediscover her homeland and Ukrainian cultural roots in 2017 and several others, during which she interviewed a lot of people including veterans and now veterans of Russia’s current war on Ukraine.


“There have been several iterations of the play,” she said, noting the play takes place in 2017, so current events haven’t  changed the text.


“But they have helped the performers better understand the stories of the Ukrainian people. And that has impacted our performances,” she said.


The cast of Lianna Makuch’s play Barvinok at the Sterndale Bennett Theatre, Oct. 12-22. Photo by Richard Amery

She returned in 2018 to work with Ukrainian theatre troupe Punctuate! Theatre, Pyretic Productions and Alberta Council  for Ukrainian Arts to conduct interviews with of Ukrainian actors, activists, veterans and diplomats, and used some of their quotes in the play.


 The play is all the more poignant as several of the people she interviewed  have since died in the war.


“ I made a lot of close personal friendships who became like a second family to me when I was in Ukraine, some of who are now living in bomb shelters and some who have died,” she said.


“I hope this play will help people to be able to better understand the Ukrainian people. It is a story of hope,” she emphasized, adding it is also has a lot of humour despite the serious subject matter.


“ That was what I found especially talking to the veterans, is their sense of humour. These are ordinary people who signed up to fight,” she said.


“ It shows the Ukrainian spirit and is more meaningful now,” she said.

“ Hania’s Baba has a secret. A secret she’s bringing with her to her grave. Since moving into the long-term care centre Hania’s grandmother has been restless. Something from her past is haunting her. She desperately asks Hania to return to their Ukrainian homeland and seek out a missing piece of their family history. Hania’s search brings her to the edge of the ongoing war in Eastern Ukraine. 


Barvinok is inspired by the experiences of the playwright’s grandparents who fled Ukraine during WWII, and true accounts of people interviewed in conflict zones in Eastern Ukraine,” according to a press release about the play, which features traditional Ukrainian music and instruments including traditional instruments like the  bandura, which is similar to a harp and the tsymbaly, which is similar to a dulcimer plus plenty of accordion  and guitar.


 Lianna Makuch shows off a bandura, which is part of the music in her play Barvinok at the Sterndale Bennett Theatre, Oct. 12-22. Photo by Richard Amery

 There is also  a multi-media component to the show.


“When Nicholas Mayne (sound and video designer) and I went to Ukraine, we took a lot of footage. It’s integral to the play. And there are a lot of Easter eggs in it,” she said.

 Her Baba, who inspired the play passed away before getting to see it.


“But my other Baba is in Toronto. She was going to see it, but she’s 95. So she saw a video of it,” she said.


Makuch is honoured to finish this run of the play in Lethbridge.


“ My Baba emigrated from Ukraine to Lethbridge so it was really important to me to reflect on the experience. I got to see the house where my father grew up. It was important to show that Ukrainian people are just regular people,” she said.


 New West Theatre Artistic director Kelly Reay is excited the local theatre company was able to bring the play to Lethbridge.


“The dates lined up for us. It was serendipitous. It’s certainly more topical now,“ Reay said.


“ It’s a celebration of Ukrainian people,” he said.


New West Theatre brings Barvinok to the Sterndale Bennett Theatre, Oct. 13-22.

Get tickets today at


Tickets are $25 for adults and $20 for seniors and students. The show is at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. There are also 1 p.m. matinees on Oct. 15, 19, 20  and 22.

— By Richard Amery, L.A. Beat Editor

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