Page One

Actress returns to first love in ‘Goddesses’

By John Angell Grant Correspondent
Friday August 31, 2001

It took traveling halfway around the world for Berkeley actor Svetlana Couture to go full cycle, and return to her youthful love of theater. Couture opens tonight in a short, three-performance run at Berkeley’s Live Oak Theater in Bay Area playwright Dorotea Reyna’s show “Goddesses.”  

Inspired by the female archetype work of well-known Bay Area Jungian analyst Jean Shinoda Bolen, the play tells the story of one particular woman’s wants and needs, as her desires are expressed at different moments of her life through the particular goddess influencing her behavior. Couture plays the character of Aphrodite. 

The 35-year-old Couture moved to Berkeley in 1989. She was born in a small town in the eastern part of Ukraine, where she attended Cherkassy State University, studying to be a teacher of English and German. 

In local amateur theater productions in Ukraine, Couture played the lead in Alexander Pushkin’s “Eugene Onegin,” performed in other community shows, and was part of a college comedy group that wrote and staged political humor skits for invited audiences in private homes. 

In 1988, during the Gorbachev era of glasnost and perestroika, Couture participated in a 30-day international peace walk in the Soviet Union attended by 250 visitors from the United States, Japan and Australia. 

On this walk she met Berkeley radio programmer Ray Couture, who was reporting on the march via satellite phone for KPFA. They became friends, and when he invited her to Berkeley the next year, they fell in love and married. 

After immigrating to Berkeley in 1989, Svetlana Couture considered pursuing an acting career, but was told by an entertainment agent that at 5 feet, 1 inch tall, she was not the right size. Instead, she earned a law degree at New College and began working for a local insurance defense firm. 

But Couture became disillusioned with her lawyering work. “I woke up one morning and realized I was wasting my life,” she said. “I couldn’t see spending my life defending insurance companies. With this job, I had the feeling I might be doing more damage than help.” 

About the same time, Couture played hooky from work one afternoon and saw the Kevin Spacey movie “American Beauty,” the story of a disillusioned corporate worker undergoing an identity crisis. 

“I never reacted to a movie like that before,” said Couture. “It made me think about my life. I realized that I wanted the satisfaction of knowing I did something good for someone, even if it’s tiny, as opposed to these terrible massive things that lawyers do, especially in defense situations.” 

“When you work for insurance defense,” continued Couture, “you develop this hard steel, cold being inside you. You don’t want to think what will happen to these people (on the other side) if I do this and that, because the clients want you to feel that way.” 

“I became disillusioned about the ideas of justice and human rights, the things I cherished during law school,” she added. “Those things sort of disappeared one by one. By the end of the insurance defense job, I was empty.” 

In the process of analyzing her life, Couture decided she needed to get back to what she really enjoyed, and that was performing. 

She signed up for classes in acting, speech, voice and singing at A.C.T. in San Francisco. She got publicity photos made, and did some extra work on television’s “Nash Bridges” and the film “Bedazzled.” 

Recently Couture was cast in an independent film called “Bar,” currently shooting at the Albatross Pub in Berkeley. In that film she plays a Russian bachelorette having a good time at the bar, who gets involved with a man interested in mail-order brides. 

In addition, Couture and her husband have started a production company called Haute Couture. They are developing a cooking show pilot for television, and considering a television series of interviews with prominent people in the human potential movement. 

“All of my youthful theater activities came to a screeching halt when I came to this country,” said Couture. “Somehow I thought I had to become practical and businesslike. Now that I am acting again I feel alive and happy. I get high with the energy acting produces. It is very exciting.” 


Daily Planet theater reviewer John Angell Grant has written for “American Theater,” “Backstage West,” “Callboard” and others. Email him at