1"Woman with the Red Kerchief," a stage production by playwright Wendy Lement and historian Firouzeh Mostashari, will have its world premiere Saturday at Newburyport's Maudslay State Park.
The play, which is being presented by Theater in the Open, is based on an episode in the life of Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy, which Tolstoy himself wrote about in at least three stories.
Lement, who directs the play, and Mostashari were colleagues on the faculty of Regis College in Weston. Lement is head of the college's Drama Department and Mostashari, until recently, was a historian.
When they decided to collaborate on "Woman with the Red Kerchief," Lement said, "we sat at a computer together and battled out every word."
Each had her own area of expertise to add to the blend. Mostashari is a Russian scholar and Tolstoy specialist who could keep an eye on historical accuracy. Lement is an experienced playwright who could make sure that the play retained its dramatic sense.
They submitted a 10-page scene breakdown in their proposal to Jeffrey Rath, artistic director of Theater in the Open. Lement has been associated with the theater-in-residence at Maudslay for more than 15 years and was its first education director. Theater in the Open has produced three of Lement's earlier plays.
With a go-ahead from Theater in the Open, Lement and Mostashari started writing in December. They had just six months to complete the piece; Mostashari and her husband were moving to Iowa, where he was going to be working, July 1.
The action in "Woman with the Red Kerchief" takes place on the eve of the emancipation of serfs in imperial Russia. Tolstoy realizes he has fallen in love with a serf on his estate, a 23-year-old married woman named Aksinia Bazykina.
The story is told from Aksinia's perspective, Lement said. A strong and spirited young woman with flashing eyes and flowing hair, Aksinia captures Tolstoy's imagination and, little by little, draws him into her world. The liaison slowly turns into an obsession for the novelist, who has begun to dress in peasant garb.