Voices From Chornobyl

2012 was the first year since 2005 that my April hadn’t been all about promoting awareness of the nuclear accident at Chernobyl. The history of the project is longer than the piece itself, and explore this site for more information. I adapted the play from 2015 Nobel Prize winner Svetlana Alexievich’s book Voices From Chernobyl.

For the thirtieth anniversary of the accident, I’ll tweet the entire script during the month of April. Follow @VoicesChornobyl to read.

Below is a sample of the script and a demo video we produced for the 2007 International Chernobyl Conference. We used to promote awareness and raise funds for Chernobyl charities by doing readings around Los Angeles. If you are interested, please contact me.

CHARACTERS (and ensemble members)

Katya Shimanky, young girl at the time of the accident (Kappa Victoria Wood)

Vasily Shimanky, Physicist (Brad Beacom)

Irina Shimanky, Doctor at a Radiation Hospital (Katie Sweeney)

Anna Sushko, Resident of Chornobyl (Enci)

Arkady Filin, Clean-up Crew Member (Aaron Lyons)

Grigory Brovkin, Former Soldier, Leader of a Clean-up Crew (Michael Laurino)

Stepanov Morozkov, Vasily and Grigory’s Supervisor (Brian Sparrow)

Sergei Gurin, Cameraman from Minsk (Shawn Macaulay)

Ludmila (A Solitary Human Voice), Wife of a Fireman (Kristin Mochnick / Carolyn Blais)

Valentina (A Lonely Human Voice), Wife of a Clean-up Crew Member (Daryl Dickerson)

NOTE

At times the characters speak to their Interviewer and at times they are back in the moment. If there is a slash (/) on one line, then the following line should overlap at the point of the slash (/).

 

VOICES FROM CHORNOBYL 

Adapted by Cindy Marie Jenkins

From the book by Svetlana Alexievich

 

KATYA

You’re writing a book, but so far no book has helped, explained it to me. No more than the theater or the movies. I figure it out without them. By myself.

ANNA

There was no sign.

KATYA

We’re all going through this alone, and we don’t know what to do.

ANNA

Anna inspiration

Inspiration for ANNA

Sometimes, your palm itches and you know to get ready. But today, no signs.

KATYA

We don’t know what to do. I want to love, I try to love! I pray for my love! And—-

VASILY

My first reaction was to call my wife and warn her. But all our telephones at the Institute were bugged. That eternal fear, beaten into us through the decades.

ANNA

The first fear came out of the blue, over water—

VASILY

My family didn’t know.

KATYA

My father is particularly bewildered.

VASILY

My daughter – at this moment she would be walking to school. With friends. Outside.

 

KATYA

He always taught me to live by books. And suddenly books cannot help. My parents are confused. My father does not know how to live without the counsel of books. Without Chekhov and Tolstoy, and the old Greek masters.

Remember? I want to remember and at the same time I don’t.

VASILY

Shut the windows.

KATYA

I remember my mother’s phone call in the early morning.

IRINA

There’s a fire at the atomic station. Orders are to keep the radio on.

KATYA

We lived in Pripyat, just three miles from the reactor. I was born and bred there.

VASILY

Listen to me very closely.

IRINA

What are you talking about?

VASILY

Quiet. Shut the windows. Put all the food in plastic bags.

Put on rubber gloves and wipe every surface with a wet rag. Then put the rag in a plastic bag and get rid of it. The laundry drying on the balcony has to be washed again.

IRINA

What’s happened ther—

VASILY

I hung up. She was in medicine. She was bound to understand.

KATYA

Remember? Perhaps it’s better not to. Just in case. We saw the fire—

ANNA

–and we figured it was temporary, and no one was worried about it. We didn’t know about atoms, I swear! One nightingale sang all night—that means a sunny day.

LUDMILA

In the middle of the night, I heard a noise. I –I don’t know what to tell you about! Death or love? Or is it one and the same? What shall I tell you? We were newlyweds. We still held hands in the street, even if we were just going to the store. I told him: “I love you.” But I didn’t even know how much. I had no idea. We lived in the hostel of the fire station where he worked. Below us, on the first floor, were the fire engines.

Red fire engines. That was his work. That was all he ever wanted to do.

(Takes a deep breath) In the middle of the night, I heard a noise. I looked out the window. He saw me and said, “Shut the windows and get back to sleep. There’s a fire at the reactor. I’ll be back soon.”

(pause)

I did not see the explosion itself. Only the flames. Everything seemed to flow.

ANNA

fire truck on fire

KATYA’s drawing from 2011 production: Voices From Chornobyl Jr.

People took their small children outside, lifted them up and said, “Look, how beautiful! Don’t forget this.” We stood in that horrible black smoke.

LUDMILA

The whole sky. The flames were high. And smoke. Horrible heat.

KATYA

The smoke over the station was not black or yellow, it was light blue.

ANNA

We did not know that Death could be so beautiful.

IRINA

The police and the military set up roadblocks, they were letting no one out. We spent all day watching TV, waiting for Gorbachev to speak. The authorities were silent.

KATYA

I stared all day out of the closed window. It was just an ordinary fire, being put out by ordinary firemen.

LUDMILA

And he was still out. They went off to the fire without their protective gear, just in their shirt sleeves. They were summoned as if to a normal fire. I sat and waited. Four o’clock.

VALENTINA

I’d go to church, where it was so quiet.

LUDMILA

Five……

VALENTINA

The way it is in the mountains sometimes.

LUDMILA

Six……..

VALENTINA

So quiet. You can forget your life in there. But in the mornings, I’d wake up. I’d wake up and feel around for him. Where is he? I’d shut my eyes and think about him until I fell asleep. In my sleep, he would come to me, but very quickly. Vanish immediately.

LUDMILA

Seven o’clock.

VALENTINA

Where is he? I can’t tell you what it is like. I don’t know how I manage to stay alive.

LUDMILA

At seven they informed me that he was in the hospital. I ran over there, but police would not let anyone in. Only ambulances could drive in. The policemen shouted: the ambulances are radioactive, don’t’ get close. I was not alone, all the wives whose husbands were at the reactor that night, were there. I grabbed onto a Doctor as she walked by—“Get me inside!”

IRINA & LUDMILA

I can’t. He’s in a bad way. They all are.

LUDMILA

Pleas! Just to see him.

IRINA

(Hands her a form)

Sign this.

Do you have children?

LUDMILA

I thought, I have to say yes. If I say no, they won’t let me see him.

Yes.

IRINA

How many?

LUDMILA

A boy and a girl.

IRINA

Now listen. The central nervous system is completely damaged, the bone marrow is completely destroyed.

LUDMILA

AL right, so he’ll be a bit nervous…….

IRINA

And listen—

IRINA & LUDMILA

If you cry, I’ll throw you out right away. You may not hug or kiss. Don’t come close.

LUDMILA

I’ll give you half an hour.

VASILY

That day, April 26th, I was in Moscow. On a business trip.

ANNA

The first fear was…..in the morning we found dead moles in the garden. Who killed them?

KATYA

We’re all going through this alone, and we don’t know what to do. I cannot comprehend it with my mind. My grandmother said she had no childhood. She had the war. Their childhood is the war and mine is Chornobyl.

GRIGORY

I had just returned from Afghanistan. I wanted to live, to get married. I wanted to get married right away. And instead I got a notice with a red stripe

Meaning “Special Draft.” Show up with your things at the following address within an hour. My mother started weeping. She thought they were sending me to war again.

ARKADY

At the time I was thinking about something else. This will seem strange to you.

GRIGORY

(To ARKADY) Get in the van.

ARKADY

But just then I was getting a divorce from my wife. Everything else seemed minor. They would come suddenly and a special van was waiting downstairs. Just like 1937.

VALENTINA

I loved him madly. Maybe you shouldn’t use my name.

VASILY

I called once, two, three times, but they wouldn’t put me through.

VALENTINA

There are secrets. People say prayers in private. Whispering.

VASILY

I found an assistant. “I’m calling from Moscow. I have urgent information. About an accident!” As soon as I started talking about the accident, they disconnected me.

VALENTINA

No, use my name. Say it to God.

STEPANOV

I heard that there was a fire there, and it’s been put out.

VASILY

That’s a lie! Deceit!

It’s a serious accident. According to my calculations, the radioactive cloud is moving towards us. Towards Belarussia. We must immediately give prophylactic iodine treatment to the population and move out everyone living close to the station. People and animals within 100 kilometers have to be moved away.

STEPANOV

Had a phone call. From the Kremlin. From Gorbachev. Something about not starting a panic in Belarussia. The West are making too much of it already.

KATYA

At the foot of the hill puffs a tractor

At the top of the hill a reactor

If we hadn’t heard it from the Swedes

We’d still be eating all those seeds.

Shawn original

Actor Shawn Macaulay in front of his painting for original 2006 production, Open Fist Theatre

clean up crew

Actor Aaron Lyons painted this image of the clean up crew for original 2006 production, Open Fist Theatre. 

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