Vicki Summers portrays her grandmother Bella, who escaped Russian pogroms in 1920 for the United States, in her one-woman show, "Bella, an Immigrants Tale." Credit: Mark Tenney

Rachel Pellis’ ancestors immigrated to the U.S. from Hungary about the time that Vicki Summers’ grandmother, Bella, escaped from the pogroms of Russia in 1920 at the age of 17.

Both women understand the importance of saving and sharing immigrant stories even though they are a generation apart.

Summers, 63, of Portland is an actress who turned her maternal grandmother’s life story into a one-woman play, “Bella,  an Immigrant’s Tale.”

Pellis is a 20-year-old junior at the University of Maine from Mount Kisco, New York, and co-president of Hillel, the Jewish student organization on campus that is cosponsoring the show along with the university’s Judaic studies program.

It will be performed for free at 7 p.m. Sunday at the Minsky Recital Hall at the university.

“I think a play is a really great way to bring Jewish stories to students,” Pellis said. “It’s not exactly the usual academic thing.”

Vicki Summers portrays her grandmother Bella, who escaped Russian pogroms in 1920 for the United States, in her one-woman show, “Bella, an Immigrants Tale.” A free performance will be presented at 7 p.m. Sunday in the Minsky Recital Hall at the University of Maine. Credit: Photo by Mark Tenney

Derek Michaud, UMaine’s coordinator of religious and Judaic studies, admitted that “the best lecturers can be a bit dry, but Vicki’s grandmother’s story will be familiar to many Jewish families.”

The show is taking place as Bangor prepares to welcome refugees from Syria after Catholic Charities of Maine expanded resettlement efforts to Penobscot County earlier this year.

The village where Summers’ grandmother was born is now in Ukraine.

“This feels like a repeat of what my grandmother lived through,” Summers said of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. “Now it’s cultural but the same basic premise of Russia coming and wiping out whole villages.”

Summers grew up in Miami, Florida, not far from her maternal grandmother, Bella Indianer, who is the subject of her one-woman play.

The actress always thought she’d tell her grandmother’s story in a book, but she wrote the 50-minute play in 2017 after taking a playwriting class designed to help actors write biographical pieces.

Vicki Summers posed for this photograph with her grandmother, Bella Indianer, in 1987. Summers will portray her grandmother in the one-woman show, “Bella, an Immigrant’s Tale” at 7 p.m. Sunday in the Minsky Recital Hall at the University of Maine. Credit: Photo by Nesie Summers

Summers first performed it at the Cape Rep Theater on Cape Cod, where she spends her summers.

“It was hard getting my grandmother to talk about her life before coming to the U.S.,” Summers said. “She’d say, ‘It was so sad when I lived in Russia and now I am so happy.’ It was painful for her to talk about.”

Despite her grandmother’s reticence, Summers said, she was able to learn enough about Bella’s childhood, her journey to the U.S. when she was 17 and her marriage to craft a compelling story.

The actress hopes people who see the show will be inspired to learn about and save their own families’ stories of immigration.

In addition to the performance in Orono, Summers will perform at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Saco River Theatre in Buxton.