A United Solo Production
“We’re good at war, in space. and at flirting,” Sufian Zhemukhov tells us of his fellow Russians. Well turned out with a face resembling Charles Aznavour and the tenuous demeanor of a Charlie Brown in his late forties, the artist came to New York on a Fulbright Scholarship and stayed to become a college history professor. Those immigrating were armed with entry instructions. Women were told not to be flirtatious with customs officers, men not to joke. Americans, he was warned, are serious when they work. The storyteller begins a series of vignettes with his intimidated arrival questioning.
Russians never smile and often shoot. Americans are passive aggressive. Russians in authority can’t carry guns (perhaps no longer the case), while the U.S. conversation about them is constant. A second vignette takes place in a gun store Zhemukhov visits out of curiosity. This tracks back to an anecdote about two dozen turkeys enabling an ancestral marriage and ends with the store’s American owner gifting him something touching. (Not a gun.) It’s easy to picture the genial exchange. The immigrant was pleased and surprised.
Once he realizes we’re not as off-putting as believed, Zhemukhov sets about looking for female company. There’s a coffee barista whose signals he tries in vain to interpret and a smart woman with a sophisticated haircut whose invitation to her home he prepares for by watching all ten seasons of Friends for dating advice. This episode is terrific. Each “indication” he observes is compared with something Rachel (from the television series) might’ve done or said and then emulated, including that they each choose a list of top celebrities they’d allow one another to sleep with. His list and its motivation are priceless.
Next is a woman Zhemukhov encounters in The Library of Congress where they’re doing respective research. They have things in common. Here a romantic Valentine gesture goes at first amiss. When the two end up in her bedroom and she tells him the truth, he has to make a moral choice facing his first American lingerie.
The raconteur decides to swear off flirting and dating and turns his full attention to storytelling. It’s then, of course, he meets someone with “a fantastic laugh that validated my fantastic jokes.” Hesitant, she allows a relationship to begin. The caveat is he has to make her a promise. This one has an O.Henry ending.
Flirting Like an American is understated and appealing. Sufian Zhemukhov’s careful, accented performance is timed to plumb situations with humor and warmth.
Flirting Like an American
Written and Performed by Sufian Zhemukhov
A United Solo Theatre Festival Production
United Solo – This year both live and streamed.
Top photo courtesy of United Solo.