By Monica Jaramillo
Memories are not meant to be forgotten. This is what Russian poet Olga Berggolts wanted: to live forever and leave an impact through her poetry.
Writer and director Ivan Fuller wrote the play Awake in Me in order to do just that. In Fuller’s eyes, Olga Berggolts deserves to be commemorated through a play so that others will be aware of what she brought to the world. Berggolts is best known for the uplifting poetry she wrote during World War II, which served as a source of strength for thousands. The play was performed Feb. 29 through March 4 in the Spitz Theatre on the Lawrenceville campus.
Awake In Me depicts the weak state of Leningrad three decades after World War II in the mid-1970s. It follows a Russian journalist named Dmitri who visits with Olga’s sister, Maria, in order to interview her and write a story about Olga’s life. Together, with Maria’s memoirs and Dmitri’s writing, they construct a story composed of Olga’s most important feats, including her work as a poet, a radio personality and a prisoner. The part of Dmitri was played by senior Chris Reed (who had to switch roles from Dmitri to Olga Berggolts’ three different husbands throughout the course of the performance) and freshman Aleaha Jones portrayed two roles: both Maria and Olga’s close friend and fellow poet, Anna Akhmatova.
“In Russia she was a hero during World War II, but now people are forgetting who she was, and in America we’d never heard of her,” Fuller said. “I simply never want her to be forgotten.”
Junior Colleen Roberts played the role of Olga.
“A lot of time and thought went into being able to portray such a tormented individual,” Roberts said. “Playing this role was and still is incredibly freeing once I found Olga in myself.”
Throughout the performance, Roberts would pick up one of Olga’s various scattered poems, read it and then throw it to the floor. She was present as a ghost, reflecting on her thoughts about the hardships her poems examined during World War II. The other characters were not aware she was present; to them, she was only “present” through her poems.
The play dealt with dark themes reflecting on the horrors of World War II, but Awake in Me proves that Olga’s words aided in keeping The Soviet Union strong and hopeful during a time full of trepidation. Though Olga lived a tormented life, having struggled through beatings during imprisonment and the deaths of both of her daughters, she was always able to find her “song” again, even in the worst moments.
“The key was finding the changes in physicality and voice, since the characters are different in age [and] in personality,” Jones said. “After figuring all this out it became easy to switch between roles without trouble.”
Dmitri, the journalist, states that he had fallen in love with Olga and wanted to honor her life and work, which is why he wants to tell her story. Dmitri’s character is based on Fuller’s personality.
“All of my feelings and questions about Olga are wrapped up in his character,” Fuller said.
Awake In Me successfully fulfills the wishes of the late Soviet poet Olga Berggolts: to become a legend through her memoirs. Her plight, commemorated in this exquisite play, is sure to resonate for years to come.
Additional reporting by Lisa Henderson.