Wednesday, August 8, 2012

"Ivanov" from Pittsburgh Irish & Classical Theatre (PICT)

"Ivanov", one of masterful Russian playwright Anton Chekov's early works, catches the titular middle-aged character as he tries to wade through his midlife crisis with a wife dying of tuberculosis, a farm rapidly falling into bankruptcy and himself being the key subject of gossip in a comedy only a Russian could write.

While most American adaptations of Chekov are given the death-wish description of "boring" the production of "Ivanov" currently running as part of PICT's "Chekov Festival" plays with all the verbal fast-paced wit of a Noel Coward play with all the heady melancholy of Hamlet. This achievement is largely due to the expert hand of director Andrew S. Paul, who stages the piece as farcefully as possible, and succeeds.

Truth be told, the supposrting characters steal the show. Alan Stanford as Count Shabelsky is a great commanding presence coupled with a downright graceful command of the language. If the play was named for the character with the most work done, it could very well be called "Lebedev", played by Martin Giles. Giles creates a blustering, put-upon father figure and friend that shakes with hilarious comic tension. While young talent Katya Stepanov gives a great performance as Sasha, the "other woman" who is more young and naive than malicious. Stepanov gives the veteran actors, or even a stage full of actors, a brash, brave challege to overcome.

That being said, Ivanov himself, played by David Whalen is a bit of a quandry. While it's probably silly to expect that every character in a Russian comedy be funny, Whalen's Ivanov all but sucks the comedy out of the room every time he appears. His anger isn't fun, but scary. His sadness isn't convincing, but wallowing.  And, seeing someone throwing themself a two-hour pity party doesn't inspire empathy, but more annoyance.

Granted, "Ivanov" is a bit of a crapshoot for an actor. We see the character talking more than actually doing anything. But, one of the good things about the ambiguity of "Ivanov" is that it leaves a lot of room for strong choices. Is Ivanov a master manipulator who started believing his own lies (as the townspeople say)? Is he a great man who really is misunderstood (As Sasha says)? Is he too stupid or self righteous or bumbling to be either (As various others say)? Any interpretation would be acceptable, and hilarious.

And maybe that is why the character of Ivanov in PICT's production falls flat, he's not enough of any. Fortunately though, the rest of the play moves with witty banter, hilarious characters and enough "comedy-of-manners" type situations to suit any comic needs. If you have never seen a Chekov play, or still need convincing as to their entertainment value, the "Ivanov" at PICT should not be missed.

Tickets for PICT's production of "Ivanov" can be purchased here:

-The Eponymous Theatre Critic, like most theatre critics, can be found staying up too late and drinking far too much. But, eight glasses a day takes some doing if you have to squeeze them in all before midnight.

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