A new theatrical event “The Apple Does Not Fall: Journeys of a Russian-Jewish Family” will have its Chicago-area premiere in August at Piven Theater, 927 Noyes Street, Evanston. The event features two plays, written by a Russian-Jewish emigre, Bena Shklyanoy and Kevin Olson of FirstHand Theatrical, plus a short film “Cultural Inheritance” created by Shklyanoy’s granddaughter, Abigail Matz.

The plays, “And Then What?” and “How  Many Bushels Am I Worth?” will have a ten-day run from August 16 to the 26th.

These stories are eyewitness accounts of an ordinary Russian-Jewish family and their life experiences from the pre-Bolshevik and Soviet eras to the 1970’s immigration to the US.

When the Iron Curtain opened for Soviet Jews in 1967, families had to make agonizing decisions.  Leave one’s loved ones?  Leave the only home they had known? Go to America where Russian newspaper propaganda showed pictures of extreme poverty?

Yet, thousands immigrated when they had the chance in the early 1970s.

Among the first were the Shklyanoys, including a grandmother, mother, father, and two daughters, 18 months and eight years.  Those daughters, now assimilated and pursuing their own lives and careers, do not remember life in the Soviet Union.  They have no recall of the communal apartment, the long lines for food or that being Jewish was a reason to get beaten-up by a classmate at school.

It is a story that resonates not only with those who came from the Soviet Union, but with refugees fleeing oppressive regimes around the globe.  The stories of culture shock and adjustment to a new world are universal.

“And Then What?” opened to critical acclaim in Providence RI in 2017. Broadway World Rhode Island called it a “rare piece of theater that truly touches every emotion…captivates from the moment the first lines are spoken.” The play tells the story of how Bena’s family closed ranks in the face of cruel history and defeated it. 

“How Many Bushels Am I Worth?” makes its debut at Piven Theatre and paints a picture of life in the Soviet Union. It focuses on Bena and her husband’s difficult decision to leave, and how, as they faced the edge of the world, they closed their eyes and jumped. The play also applauds the unwavering determination of the Save Soviet Jewry movement and support of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) that allowed them to arrive and settle in the United States.

The new short film, “Cultural Inheritance: Stories of Children and Grandchildren of Soviet Jewish Immigrants” will be screened after all performances. This film connects the vision of the Soviet Jewish immigrants to the cultural identity and impact on their young children and grandchildren today. This film is a JUF Russian Jewish Division’s Tikkun Fellowship project by Abigail Matz, funded by Genesis Philanthropy Group.

The plays are the brainchild of Kevin Olson of Rhode Island based “FirstHand Theatrical” which creates and presents original productions using primary source material drawn mainly from diverse personal, cultural and social histories and other writings. Olson directs both productions. The cast, designers and crew are experienced Chicago-based artists.

Author Bena Shklyanoy spent 11 years tracing her family tree. What she learned spans two world wars, the Bolshevik revolution, annihilated shtetls (villages), the Holocaust, the Soviet empire and, finally, the large-scale immigration of Soviet Jews to the United States. (Visit appledoesnotfall.com.)

“Apple Does Not Fall, Journeys of a Russian Jewish Family,” is made possible by the generous sponsorship of Chicago Surgical Clinic & Associated Surgical Center, Shmunis Family Foundation and LifeCare Home Health & In-Home Services.

Tickets are $25, or $20 each for groups of 10 or more. Both plays can be seen for $40 as a double feature on August 19 and 22. See the full schedule and purchase tickets at www.firsthandtheatrical.orgCall 401.400.2517 or email firsthandtheatrical@gmail.com for additional information and to arrange for groups.

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