Monday, February 18, 2013
Theater review: Pantagleize Theatre produces mixed bag with A Chekov Valentine
It's hit and miss, but always impressive that Pantagleize takes on such hard and ambitious productions.
FORT WORTH A Chekov Valentine consists of three romantic one act plays by the noted Russian playwright, Anton Chekov, including The Brute, The Marriage Proposal, and The Wedding Reception.
Anton Pavlovich Chekhov 1860-1904, was a Russian physician, author and dramatist and is considered to be one of the greatest writers of short stories. Chekhov practiced as a doctor for most of his writing career, stating, "Medicine is my lawful wife ... and literature is my mistress.”
Chekhov initially began writing for financial gain in order to help his family, supporting them trough his earnings as a freelance journalist and comedic writer while also studying and practicing medicine. He began his career writing for journals, often using pen names for his work. Eventually, he began writing stories of human misery and despair that soon dominated his literary work, such as Uncle Vanya, The Cherry Orchard, and The Boor. It was also during this time that he also wrote several one-act farces known as vaudevilles, such as Medved (The Bear), Predlozheniye (The Proposal), Svadba (The Wedding), Yubiley (The Anniversary), and others.
Each of the three one-acts shares the same set area and costume styles. The first two acts share the same furniture. However, during the first act the furniture pieces are covered with material that masks the rich styling of the furniture for the second act. The setting for the third act is a large dining area for the wedding reception dinner with fine linens and dinnerware.
The costuming for each act is time period appropriate, and one of the highlights of the production. Each character is dressed as befits their culture and station of life in the late 1800s and early 1900s in Russia, from the more refined gowns of the landowners to the simple garb of the servants and hired help.
Lighting and sound for the first two stories are essentially the same. With the long dining table used in the third act, as opposed to the central area living room style of the first two acts, the lighting areas are adjusted to accommodate the changes. While the first two acts do not have the needed sound effects required for the story, the third act includes music for the wedding dinner and a military march that is played for the benefit of the General that was invited, but did not arrive to the wedding dinner. In such an intimate performing space, the music at times is so loud as to overpower the lines being spoken on stage. Additionally, the music is played at times that do not seem to match the action on the stage.
In each of the three acts, some of the actors use a Russian accent, while many of the others do not. Timothy Crabb as Luka and the Bridegroom, and Seth Johnston as the inebriated father of the bride, are the most successful and consistent with the accents throughout the production.
Across the board, the acting was mixed, with some actors having a better understanding of their character, the nuances of the Russian culture of the time, and the delivery of lines. At times, lines are dropped and scenes feel like they are slower than expected as actors repeat lines as they bring each story back on track.
The Brute tells the story of a man who came to collect a monetary debt, and leaves with much more. Timothy Crabb, as Luka, presents a consistent character. He adequately exhibits the characteristics and demeanor of a house servant. Suzie Forte, as Mrs. Popov, presents a character that is emotionally uninspiring in this story. Throughout most of this story she delivers her lines with little variance in emotion. While she occasionally raises the volume in her voice, indicating that she is angry, I did not see the anger, frustration or resentment of a woman that is mourning her husband and is rudely intruded upon by a man demanding payment of a debt. David Ellis, as Mr. Smirnoff, at times is the only character on stage in this scene, which may help explain why Ellis finds moments to overpay his character and exaggerate in an effort to keep the audience engaged in the scene.
The Marriage Proposal explores the conflicts between a suitor and the woman whose hand he seeks in marriage. This act is the most energetic and lively of the three. Each of the actors in this story alternately overplays and underplays their character. As a consequence, they bring laughter and energy to a story that repeats itself at times. Interaction between Robert Rake as Stepan Stepanovitch Chubukov and Aaron Plaskonos as Ivan Vassilevitch Lomov sometimes goes in circles until getting back on track. When it is on track, the dialogue and scene is flowing, and the chemistry between all three of the actors is fun to watch. Mary Jane Greer as Natalia Stepanovna, uses the stage well as she energetically argues with Plaskonos as Ivan Vassilevitch Lomov about topics that include whose dog is the better hunter and which family actually owns the section of land that borders each estate. Greer is over the top sometime in her gestures and hysterics. But it brings energy and humor to the scene.
The Wedding Reception is a story that deals with the complications that arise at a wedding reception when the bride and groom's sides of the family try to impress the other.
Seth Johnston is entertaining as Mr. Zigalov, the Bride’s father. Johnston consistently stays in character while using a believable Russian accent. His interactions with David Ellis as Dimba, a Greek Confectioner, as they drunkenly argue about whether Greece or Russia is better, are highly entertaining. Likewise, Ellis makes a delightfully drunk partner with Johnston in this story.
Suzie Forte as Mrs. Zigalov, the Bride’s mother, is much more interesting to watch in the story. She presents a character with more depth and levels as she discusses and argues with each of the other guests. She argues with the groom about money that is owed and interrogates another guest in order to find out whether an important military General has been invited and will make an appearance at the wedding dinner. In this story, Forte is much more animated and presents a character with much more depth.
Having performed in Chekhov productions in the past, I can attest to the challenge of working successfully with his works. It is often difficult for American actors to capture the nuances of the culture and characteristics of stories from other areas around the globe. Pantagleize Theatre Company, however, seems to relish this challenge and every year presents productions that other theatres might consider as not commercial or well enough known. Their mission is "to bring plays from around the globe to Fort Worth, Texas and develop original works by local playwrights to share with the world." While the performance has some challenges, it is worth seeing in order to get a feel for the Russian culture from this era, and may even encourage more people to read Chekhov’s stories.
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