This early play of Chekhov contains all of the elements he included in his later masterworks. Nicolai lvanov, a farmer and member of the county council, is a man who ``spreads boredom and discontent everywhere he goes,'' married to a consumptive wife who is Jewish, surrounded by dysfunctional families full of pettiness and anti-Semitism, who spend their leisure time in gossip, partying, and drinking. All the characters save one are frustrated, unhappy, dreaming of getting away from it all, and all reflect in different ways the weakness and unhappiness of Ivanov, the protagonist.
As directed by Joumana Rizk, this quite lavish OOB production by the Magellan Project moved slowly and suffered from the dangers inherent in such a difficult play: how can an audience really care about this man and the people surrounding him, this burnt-out case who ``doesn't understand himself, doesn't understand anybody.'' Yet, such is the genius of Chekhov, that the audience is drawn in to these people's lives, and is curious to find out more about this ``completely superfluous man.'' (The play also had a very serviceable, contemporary and smooth translation by Paul Schmidt, as well as some fine performances, and added up to a very worthwhile evening in the theatre.)
Victor Slezak as Ivanov did a good job in this very difficult role, communicating his depression and suffering and yet not exasperating the audience. Lee Richardson was at first extremely hesitant as Count Shabelevsky, but settled into the role as the play proceeded. Kati Kormendi, lvanov's wife, in a strong performance, radiated all the love and pain of that character. David Callahan as the doctor delivered a convincing portrayal of a man who cares passionately about his patient -- in more ways than one. As the president of the County Council, a henpecked husband, Stephen Mendillo was vary fine, as was his daughter, Camilla Enders as Sasha. Enders brought youth and sweetness and light to this dull assemblage; she positively glowed. Michael Pemberton as Ivanov's steward commanded the stage in all his scenes. All the other actors did quite well, though some performances seemed ``over the top,'' spoiling the even ensemble acting vital in Chekhov.
A live quartet played lovely original music by Han Young. It was effective in the introduction of the play hut highly disconcerting, even annoying, when it played too loudly along with certain dialog. The Ohio Theater is very spacious and a more claustrophobic space might have been better for this particular play. The set (Christine Jones and Shawn Lewis) was a nice, imaginative touch, using the table as a coffin to end the play; lighting design (Christopher Landy) and costumes (Jonathan Green) all served the play well. Also featuring: Nancy Franklin, Crystal Bock, Bill Quigley, Anne Mcmillan, Leonid Vashenko, Jeremy Rich, Max Baker, James Gunn, Michael Swiskay, Emily DePew.
Copyright 1996 Dudley Stone
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