Marriage was the central theme of the three one-acts that made up ``January Babies.'' Deception entered in as well, at least for the Strindberg plays, and perhaps that is what made them significantly more interesting and effective. Also crucial to the success of the Strindberg (and, by contrast, the relative failure of the Chekhov) was a certain subtlety in the acting of the latter.
The evening's first offering was Chekhov's ``The Marriage Proposal,'' in which a simple act--that of Lomov (Jeff Karr) asking his neighbor Chubukov (Paul Cara) for permission to marry his daughter Natasha (Melanie Blade)--becomes more complicated due to a land dispute. The comedy lies in a series of cycles in which the same bits of information are gone over and over, in a comic repetition that escalates, it seems, almost to the death of one of them. Unfortunately, every action, every line was so overplayed from the very beginning, and the movement on stage so constant and frenetic, that there was no room for escalation. As a result, the action seemed merely repetitive, the actors merely loud and neither very funny. Karr's continual hand-wringing, pacing, whining and bobbing up and down made his seeming death a relief. Perhaps they would finally all stop shouting!
The transition to the quiet subtlety of Strindberg's ``The Stronger'' was a welcome relief. This 15-minute study in shifting power dynamics was brilliantly handled by director Burgos, who limited movement to the bare minimum, and by the acting prowess of Maria Gabrielle and Tanya Klein. As the two women meet in a cafe, Madame X (Gabrielle) is initially concerned but condescending about the fact that her friend, Mademoiselle Y (Klein), is alone. As Mme. X slowly discovers the truth about the relationship between this woman and her husband (though Mme. Y never speaks), her condescension transforms into anger, then into the realization that perhaps she is the ``stronger'' after all. For she has won him in the end. That Strindberg compresses such an array of power dynamics and emotions into a single 15-minute monologue is one of the wonders of modern drama. It also creates a true challenge for both actresses, and both Gabrielle and Klein were equal to it.
An earlier Strindberg play, ``Creditors,'' closed the evening. Gustav (John Reiners) re-appears in the lives of his ex-wife Tekla (Meredith Goldberg) and her new husband, Adolf (John Sarno), determined to destroy the man who has taken his place. Strindberg sought to cut drama down to its essence, to the single ``kernel'' that is at the heart of the traditional five-act play, to remove the unnecessary chaff that surrounds it. Indeed, ``Creditors'' is stripped to the action -- the destruction of Adolf. And yet, performed immediately following ``The Stronger'' (and as the third one-act of a fairly lengthy evening), the one-and-a-half-hour drama seemed rambling and over-long, as the performances, though smooth, lacked energy.Box Score:
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