Noises off

To Moscow
By Karen Sunde
Directed by Steve Deighan
Chain Lighting Theatre
One Dream Theatre
232 W. Broadway (219-2085)
Equity showcase (closes Oct. 27)
Review by John Chatterton

To Moscow shows Chekhov's gradual decline from tuberculosis as reflected in the eyes of his women, notably housekeeper Masha (Carol Emshoff) and actress, eventually wife, Olga (Ginger Grace). Also on the scene are Konstantin Stanislavski (yes, that Stanislavski, played with agility by Gregory Seel) and other theatrical coworkers, including ingenue Lika (marvelously played by Brandee Graff).

This play's strengths lie in the clarity with which its author delineates character, a clarity that came through in production because of the care gone into by the company, including oobr award-winning costumer Meganne George, whose renditions demonstrated a sure sense of period as well as character. The dramatic arc of the play follows the progression of Chekhov's disease, in which he is at first feverish but optimistic, then eaten up and moribund. In a memorable deathbed scene, Chekhov urges Olga, no doubt in the interest of research into her craft, to watch him closely as he draws his last.

One problem with the play is that most of the conflict is incidental and disposed of along the way. Whether to have Stanislavski's company perform his plays; whether the results are acceptable; whether Masha will stay on after the wedding; all make for plot points more than conflicts, and not much to hang a story on. The constant transitions from talking about theatre to doing it made for some splendid moments, as when at the end of an affecting dinner scene Stanislavski walked on and ordered, ``Strike everything!'' and the actors, breaking out of the scene but staying in character, scurried about preparing the stage for the next scene. (Some inconsistencies -- why does Chekhov go to Stanislavski's studio if he hates his work so? How inexperienced an actress really is Lika? -- suggest that the wheels of dramaturgy ground a little too coarse at times.)

The fluid staging made the most of the cavernous One Dream space. A door flat up center made a convenient divider when it was necessary to suggest a separate room. In one scene, actors came ``off'' an imaginary stage in the wings, which were lit to suggest that a production was going on there. Numerous props and set pieces were scattered around the black-box stage, to be taken up as needed. (Set design, Bill Kneissl.)

Scott Clyve's heavy blend of saturated ambers and blue lights was very effective at first but could have used a more subtle touch later.

Most of the performances vibrated with that energy and sense of ensemble that bring people to the theatre. Kricker James had the irascible, productive, dying, but horny Chekhov down pat, but his performance was so low-key that he sometimes was drowned out by a loud (and unnecessary) air-conditioner. He also slipped unaccountably into some Southern regionalism from time to time.

That the playwright is an actor should come as no surprise after an evening spent watching Stanislavski's company dissect the acting process (in a manner perhaps more appropriate to the Acting Studio). This is a play in part about Chekhov, but more about acting and the theatre itself, in which the audience sees the magic trick being done and then gets a lecture on how it was all put together. If Chekhov had been an actor instead of a writer, the play might have been more unified. (Also featuring Steve Kelly, Blainie Logan, and Dominiqué Kay Reino. Stage manager, David Bonilla.)

Box Score:
Writing 1
Directing 2
Acting 2
Set 1
Costumes 2
Lighting/Sound 1
Copyright 1996 John Chatterton

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