note: entire contents copyright 2014 by Richard Pacheco
“Ivanov” was Chekhov’s play first produced in 1877, commissioned as a comedy, but Chekhov delivered a four act drama with which he was unhappy. This translation by Trinity Artistic Director Curt Columbus, in this world premiere translation production, tackles it as a comedy and not your parent’s Chekhov at all, it is more like a combination of vaudeville and a wacky family reality television show. The play is not done much outside of Russia.
The play tells the tale of Ivanov, who has gotten depressed and in a funk and struggles to recover his former joy and glory. His wife, Anna, a Jewess disinherited by her family when she convert to Christianity, has become very ill and his estate is run by a distant relative who is busy advising people how he can help them make money. Ivanov, Stephen Thorne, is in a mounting funk about his life and not loving his ill wife any longer, both of which increase. Thorne is spirited and energetic in the role.
Anna is his wife, played by Rebecca Gibel. She is Ivanov's wife of 5 years who (unknowingly) suffers from Tuberculosis. She renounced her Jewish heritage and converted to Russian Orthodox in order to marry Ivanov. She struggles with her husband’s failing interest in her and his change from a positive outlook to a more gloomy and depressed one, which hangs over him like an ominous cloud of doom. Gibel is energetic and poised in the role managing to capture a certain fragility amidst here increasing sadness. It is a solid performance full of nice touches.
Fred Sullivan Jr. is Count Shabelsky, a tile in need of money. He is Ivanov's maternal uncle, a geriatric buffoon full of bluster and bombast. Sullivan handles it with unbridled energy and zest often with over the top resules.
Richard Williams is Lvov, a pompous young doctor on the council's panel, and an honest man. Throughout the play, he moralizes and attacks Ivanov's character. He does not like him at all and dislikes the way he treats his sick wife William is the epitome of self-righteous in the role, full of self importance and self confidence, always ready to question anyone’s motives and the merest whim and inclination. Williams is on the mark in the role, never faltering.
Sasha is played with charm and an almost naïve energy by Marina Shay. Sasha is the neighbor Lebedevs' 20-year-old daughter. She is infatuated with Ivanov, adores him like a determined puppy.
Joe Wilson is Ivanov’s distant cousin and manger of the estate, a man with continual schemes to make more money, not just for himself, but for all around him. Wilson is frenetic, almost spastic in the role, which is often over the top nearly without subtlety.
Angela Brasil is Marta, a rich relatively recent widow. She is attracted to the count and wants something more out of him. She is loaded with energy and zest in the role, if at times a bit overdone and exaggerated.
Anne Scurria is the shrill, overbearing Zinaida, mother of Sasha. She is also a lender and Ivanov is into her for quite of bit of money he cannot afford to pay back.
Timothy Crowe is Pasha, Marata’s husband and Chairman of the rural district council. He is confidant and good friend to Ivanov. Crowe quivers at the merest sight of his wife who is totally domineering and overbearing. He is spineless and does here every bidding in total fear.
Stephen Berenson drifts in and out as a party guest obsessed with playing cards, as if it were his sole “raison d’etre.” He is very funny as he darts about oozing excitement over each fresh game of cards he recalls for the others, much to their horror and boredom.
There is some entertaining live music composed by Ian McNeely and broad bold strokes in the acting. The thing that bothered me is that the acting often seemed like harshly drawn caricatures rather than full characters, like some teen comedy gone awry.
Director Brian McEleney keeps the pacing here rapid, full of comic touches throughout. However the acting style seems a bit exaggerated, more farce than anything else, often lacking nuance and subtlety for the characters. He keeps the ctors consistent though, but at times it feels too much.
The laughs are packed in all along the way, often back to back, but some of it seems strained and the transition to a darker ending seems a bit of a sudden shift, almost a surprise. A caveat, in the beginning, there is brief nudity as Ivanov gets out of the bathtub and goes offstage, I have to admit that this production with all its virtues leaves Stanislavski method behind in more frenetic (at times too much so) performances.
“Ivanov” Sept 4 until Oct. 5 at Trinity Rep, 201 Washington St., Providence. Tickets are $46-$71. Call (401) 351-4242,