Give me a break!

January Babies

"The Anniversary" by Anton Chekhov
"Easter" by August Strindberg
Directed by Tanya Klein
Creative Artists Laboratory
Equity showcase (closed)
Review by Marshall Yaeger

The program offered no clue as to who adapted or wrote the stilted translations of these one-acts. Presumably neither Chekhov nor Strindberg was responsible for such anachronisms as "schmuck," "whiplash," or "Give me a break!"

The leads in both plays were out of their depth, country, and time. John Lederer in the Chekhov never found his character. Aaron Nay in the Strindberg (playing the ultimate pessimist who would break the half-empty glass to draw shards across his wrists), intoned a marvelous voice, but there the marvel ended. Both actors marched noisily and artlessly about the stage, obviously having gotten minimal help from the director.

Ronna Geller, in the Chekhov play, could have been Liza Minnelli giggling over her green nail polish. Paul Cara strove valiantly to play a farce, having no suitable partner. And Sarah McKee was much too young and beautiful to play an obstreperous babushka. For some reason, Ian Tabatchnick wore a sporty raincoat over tails while delivering an antique speech.

The Strindberg play was remarkably inept dramaturgically. Many scenes lacked conflict. There was awkward and endless exposition. A melodramatic villain came to seize the furniture. A whole family was threatened with the hoosegow because someone stole a daffodil. And the entrances and exits were as motivated as a soap opera's.

Vivienne Jurado, with a one-note beatific smile suitable for every occasion, was quite beautiful; but her lilting accent could use less New York regionalism. Melanie Blade was never dull, sounding just like Bette Davis. And John Reiniers played a properly vicious villain, although his age and costume were all wrong.

Only Brian Luna in a minor role almost saved the day, for he cared enough about his talent to prepare himself as best he could for his touching few moments. Chantel Gonzalez as his love object (enjoying the weekend down from the insane asylum) came in a close second.

The supernatural architecture of the thrown-together set exhibited no sense of space or time. Three doors lined up next to each other.

As for the lighting, it suddenly lowered by half as a character exclaimed "Oh, the Sun went down!" From that point to the end of the scene you could barely see the actors.

Almost nothing in this production was worked out with any care or discipline, much less love. Rehearsal props substituted for important production elements throughout. For example, a lot of important action in the Strindberg play took place while peeking out of a curtained window hoping not to be seen. How much would it have cost to find some 19th-century-like cloth for the purpose? Instead, the actors made do with a square yard of torn sheet. The dangling threads weren't even cut. One character used the curtain for a headdress. How a director could allow (or even worse, invent) such a tasteless bit of business was beyond belief.

Box Score:
Writing 1
Directing 0
Acting 0
Set 0
Costumes 0
Lighting/Sound 0
Copyright 1997 Marshall Yaeger

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