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Couple who endured war and pandemic staging play at Pavilion

World premiere of First Métis Man of Odesa set for March 16 in Kamloops
Matthew MacKenzie and Mariya Khomutova rehearse a scene from their play, First Métis Man of Odesa, set to make its world premiere at the Pavilion Theatre on March 16.

A contemporary love story set against a backdrop of dreary world events will soon be told on the stage of the Pavilion Theatre.

First Métis Man of Odesa will make its world premiere on March 16, running until March 25 at the Pavilion Theatre, 1025 Lorne St.

The latest presentation from Western Canada Theatre is based on actual events and is the work of Matthew MacKenzie and Mariya Khomutova, a now-married couple that got together on the eve of the COVID-19 pandemic.

MacKenzie, a seventh generation Edmontonian, and Khomutova, a seventh generation Odesan, first met in Ukraine while working on a project by director Lianna Makuch, who is now directing the couple's play.

A friendship turned into a relationship as the two connected online and visited one another's respective countries, but their access to one another was soon complicated.

When the COVID-19 pandemic first kicked off, MacKenzie had just left Ukraine and a month later he would learn Khomutova was pregnant. Four months later, during a brief window when foreigners were allowed to enter Ukraine, MacKenzie returned and the two hurriedly maried in Odesa before returning to Canada.

The two continued raising their son in Canada and all was going well until the Russian invasion of Ukraine in early 2022. Khomutova became consumed by the news back home and worried for her friends and family.

Khomutova said she found it hard to function in the early days of the war.

"It affected our relationship, especially on my side and my ability to function normally. I was on my phone all the time, just checking, because my father is still in Ukraine and my mother was in Ukraine before we managed to bring her to Canada," she said.

The unequal effects of the war created a division in the relationship.

"We're lying in bed together, but we're sort of a world apart in a way we weren't during COVID, when we actually were a world apart and only connecting virtually," MacKenzie said.

Khomutova began writing about what she was feeling — devastation and guilt because she could do nothing for her fellow Ukrainians. She said what came out was "a lot of garbage," but with pearls here and there.

Those pearls ended up informing much of the play, with MacKenzie's skills as a playwright and Khomutova's classical training as an actor coming together to tell their story.

MacKenzie said although he felt like getting political with the play at times, it is ultimately a love story meant to show the human side of things.

"I think as we were writing it, exploring different avenues, things would get political sometimes, but we found it was always better to just return to literally what happened," MacKenzie said.

The Punctuate! Theatre production will run at the Pavilion Theatre from March 16 to March 25. Tickets are available online at or by calling the box office at 250-374-5483.

Upcoming presentations of the play are set for The Theatre Centre (Toronto),  Citadel Theatre (Edmonton) and The Cultch in Vancouver.