Two worlds collide on stage
The clash between the deafening silence of the New Zealand countryside and the roar of Moscow’s streets is something Ukrainianborn Elena Stejko knows only too well.
It has been almost a decade since the central Auckland actress first spoke of her experiences to writer Vanessa Rhodes but she is finally taking to the stage in Where Are You My Only One?
The unconventional love story between a Russian secretary and a lonely Waikato farmer puts the mailorder bride phenomenon under the spotlight.
Ms Stejko stars as a woman from Moscow who lives with her domineering mother and strikes up the unlikely relationship after joining a Russian mailorder bride agency.
‘‘When she writes to him she talks about the crowds and being pushed and how exciting it is and he talks about how it is so quiet on the farm that your ears sometimes hurt,’’ she says.
The actress arrived in New Zealand in 1995 with her daughter in tow and knew very little English.
The culture shock both characters experience is something she can relate to.
‘‘It translates the complexities of this journey of believing and pursuing happiness. I was driven by a better life. I was trying to find exactly what Yulia was looking for – a harmony, a balance, love and an effortless, family place.
‘‘But I remember flying into New Zealand and how looking down it was so tiny and part of me was frightened at that point because it’s so far away and I thought what’s going to happen to me.’’
The play was penned by playwright Vanessa Rhodes as a short one-act piece and was expanded in 2010.
‘‘There was a lot in the media about so called ‘ mailorder brides’ and I was intrigued to find out what lay behind these often negative stereotypes,’’ Ms Rhodes says.
She interviewed people who had left Russia following the collapse of the Soviet Union, including Ms Stejko, and New Zealand men who were looking for relationships to get to grips with the potential culture clash.
‘‘I began to imagine two unlikely souls finding each other and their two worlds colliding,’’ she says.
But for Ms Stejko the message of the play is universal.
‘‘It really is just about how everything is possible and to live and believe in your dreams.’’