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Ensemble Theatre’s ‘Describe the Night’ is a fake news true Russian folk tale

In the opening scene of Rajiv Joseph’s “Describe The Night”, we find Issac Babel (Joe Pine) late at night writing in his journal. It is 1920 during the Polish-Russo war and Issac, a Jewish Russian is serving as a wire service journalist. He is joined by a Russian soldier, Nikolai Yezhov (David Vegh) who has that very day killed an elderly Pole claiming that the man had come at him with an ax. This is later changed to a shovel and the man was digging a grave for his son. While contradictory, these stories reveal much about life in Russia for the past 90 years.

As these two unlikely comrades (Yezhov later becomes the head of Stalin’s secret police, the NKVD) share the night, idealistic Issac challenges violent Nikolai to describe the night. Each man’s description is neither right nor wrong. It is simply words born from their upbringing and past experiences...a matter of perception.

This sets up the tone for the following two hour and ten minutes where Russian history is seen as a matter of perspective.

The play flits from scene to scene covering the lives of people living and imagined in 1920 Poland, 1937 Moscow, 1940 Moscow, 1989 Dresdon, 1989 Moscow, 1989 Dresdon, 1989 Moscow and 2010 Moscow while telling the interacting tales of the seven characters.

Babel and Yezhov become troubled lifelong friends and later the writer beds his friend’s wife, Yegenia (Laura Perrotta Ford) getting her pregnant. Yezhov later betrays Babel acting as judge and executioner and arranges for his wife to be sent to an insane asylum. Urzula (Katie Wells) is the granddaughter of Issac who ends up with the journal and is desperate to flee Russia. Mariya (Laura Rauh) is a reporter sent to interview the Polish President, Lech Kaczyńskiin 2010 but the plane carrying him and most of his cabinet crashes in Russia. Mariya arrives at the crash site to find a mortally wounded woman still in her airplane seat holding onto the journal who hands the book to her.

Mariya meets Feliks who runs the car rental office. With Russian soldiers closing in, Feliks gives Mariya the use of a truck to escape. Added to the mix is K.G.B. officer Vova (Aaron Elersich) who falls for Urzula who now lives in Dresdon, Germany. In the last act of the play, Feliks meets Mrs. Petrovna who runs a Moscow laundry service. She turns out to be Vova’s sister, long thought dead by the man who would become President of Russia.

The play is full of disturbing situations as each tale weaves in and out of the narrative. The most telling of these is the Scene 5, titled: “Blood” where Leech soup is served as a Polish delicacy to Vova and Urzula which has the diners pricking their fingers to feed the leeches until they are engorged with blood. Pepper is then added to kill the leaches which are then eaten. Eating this soup will help you to remember long lost truths. In the early part of the show it is reported that face planting on a goats ass will give you the power of predictions. No, I am not making this up.

In spite of the convoluting story line and scene bouncing the cast does an admirable job. Russian accents are lightly done making it easy to understand the dialogue. The ensemble is a total team effort who work very well together to tell a very confusing story.

This Ensemble Theatre production is a thinking man and woman show that will challenge your intellect. I would suggest asking for a paper program in order to keep track of the various scenes, times and locations as listed on the title page. This is cerebral theater at its best.

Ensemble Theatre’s production of “Describe The Night” will be on stage in the black box theater in the Administration Building of Notre Dame University, 4545 College Road, South Euclid, Ohio through November 20, 2022. For more information and tickets go to or call (800) 632-6446.


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Who is Mark Horning?

Over the course of my life I have worked a variety of jobs including newspapers, retail camera sales and photography. Eight years ago I embarked on yet another career as writer. This included articles concerning sports and cultural events in Cleveland, Ohio as well reviews of the many theatrical productions around town. These days are spent photographing professional dance groups, theater companies and various galas and festivals as well as attending various stage performances and posting reviews about them.  

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