The theme of Red Deer playwright Elena Rousseau’s one-act play — immigrants transitioning from one culture into another — is about as topical as anything in the country today.
Rousseau’s one-act play Baba’s Perogies will be performed twice on Friday, free of charge, as part of Alberta Culture Days.
Rousseau, 48, came to Red Deer in 2002 from Romania, where she was born and raised, growing up as Elena Mendeleac. She worked there in an Arabic embassy, translating Arabic into Romanian.
It was love that eventually brought her to Red Deer. She met her Canadian husband Brian Rousseau in Romania, where they married. Then she and her two children from a previous marriage immigrated here. She is a permanent resident.
Now, she’s also a student, artist, playwright and poet.
When Rousseau came to Red Deer, she realized she didn’t know what to do here. Translating wasn’t in the picture.
She had always had an interest in the arts, and so she decided to go into visual arts because her English wasn’t very good. Today, she is in her third year of working towards her master’s degree in English, via the Red Deer College/University of Calgary Collaborative Program.
“I discovered here everything was fine but I was missing the traditions of my country, and when I came here I didn’t know about CARE (Central Alberta Refugee Effort) and how it helps people get integrated into the new society.
“I sort of had to do it on my own.”
At some point, she realized she could combine her love of traditions with her love of art and later writing.
The artist was always somewhere underneath. “It was only later, when I was forced to do something else, that I started to dig inside and see what were my passions.”
She discovered CARE and saw the “wonderful things they were doing for immigrants who arrived here alone.
“So I wrote this play, thinking of all these things.”
The director of Baba’s Perogies is Jan Underwood, public awareness co-ordinator and community educator for CARE.
“Jan asked to read it and she fell in love with the under messages,” said Rousseau.
“It’s very pertinent to the job that I’m doing working with immigrants,” said Underwood.
The play, said Rousseau, is “about integration and the way to do it and about tradition and what to keep, what to let go, how much is too much to keep … how much you can expect to carry with you without actually hurting the new life.”
The granddaughter of grandparents Baba and Dido wants to marry an Albertan. The granddaughter knows grandmother Baba is deep into tradition so she’s afraid to tell them about the young man in her life. Meanwhile, Baba, who actually has no problem with the boyfriend, first thinks he’s a spy trying to steal her perogy recipe.
“I see in Baba my longing for the tradition that I left behind,” said Rousseau.
“All my friends were left behind, it was very hard to make new friends because people didn’t know I had no friends.” And she was very shy. “Later on I started getting involved and you do make friends.
“Now, I don’t feel any sorrows for moving here.
“I think immigration appears more and more in whatever it is I am doing. … I am in love with all traditions, not just mine. I like to go to CARE and see other cultures. … I see the theme recurring in (my) art and in writing.
“Canada, she welcomes showing what you brought with you. It’s such as nice way to integrate into the new bigger culture that Canada has.
“I couldn’t have come to a better place if I were to consider my love of all traditions.”
Baba’s Perogies will be performed at 2:15 p.m. on Friday on the Centennial Stage (enter through the alley behind the Scott Block). And later Friday, it can be seen at 6:30 p.m. at City Centre Stage in downtown Red Deer. The evening performance also features the Mahana Polynesian Dancers, led by Teen Skeels, and singing by the newly formed multicultural Samasana Choir.