Tearing at her limp skinny legs arranged in a wheelchair, Lyena Strelkoff screamed and cried in defiance over her fate.
Her performance elicited muffled cries and tears from the students and faculty members gathered in the audience, many of whom were disabled and in wheelchairs themselves.
Strelkoff lost all sensation in and control of her lower body in 2002 when she fell off a tree branch while hiking at a park in Malibu Mountains. In “Caterpillar Soup,” brought to GCC by the Ruskin Group Theatre on Oct. 26 as part of the Disabilities Awareness Month, she focused mainly on her life after the fall.
As she described her journey through pain and therapy, she also gave the audience an account of the emotional process she went through before she realized that she had to give up some of the privacy for the sake of her health and convenience of everyday life.
In a matter-of-fact voice, Strelkoff spoke about the aftermath of her accident and how her and her boyfriend, Dean, have had to deal about catheters, urinating on schedule, infections and countless accidents related to her uncontrollable bodily functions.
The title of the play refers to a long, messy and painful process a caterpillar has to go through before it becomes a beautiful butterfly.
Strelkoff saw this process as a symbol of her transformation from a frail, broken down victim of a tragic accident, which rendered her a paraplegic, into the strong, resilient woman that she is today.
This actress, writer and former dancer was given a standing ovation at the end of her performance as many wiped their tear-streaked faces.
The love and support she experienced in her life after the accident, turned the story of a spinal column break and a subsequent paralysis, into a tale of hope and success.
Strelkoff graduated from UC Irvine where she studied acting and dance. Later she attended Jerzy Grotowski’s Work Center in Italy where she studied dance with other international interns. Grotowski was a Polish theatre theoretician, educator and creator of acting methods. The Work Center he opened in Pontedera, Italy in 1985 is a highly prestigious school.
Before the fall that rendered her paraplegic, Strelkoff was a member of Presences en Regard, a multilingual theatre group in Paris, France. ?
Today Strelkoff continues to perform and uses her personal experiences and talent to educate the community about spinal cord injuries and their consequences. To learn more about Strelkoff or to contact her, visit her Web site at www.lyenastrelkoff.org.