omplete QPORIT: CHEKHOVEK

Sunday, February 05, 2012

 

CHEKHOVEK


The Actors' Ensemble and GoShow Entertainment present 

Chekhovek 

The New York Premiere of a New Comedy
Based on Nine Short Stories by Anton Chekhov
ArcLight Theatre

 Tuesday through Saturday evenings at 8:00pm 
Matinees Saturday and Sunday at 2:00pm 
Through March 4.

http://chekhovek.com/
  

Eddie Allen, Celia Schaefer, Elizabeth Fountain, David Anderson, Rob Leo Roy
Cast of Chekhovek


Chekhovek, a new comedy adapted and directed by Melania Levitsky from nine of Anton Chekhov's best known short stories, with new music composed by Jonathan Talbott, in its New York City premiere, brings the short fiction genius of the Russian master to the stage, with nine of his most famous and theatrical stories performed by five actors and one musician.  The Chekhov short stories are...
 
The Lady with the Dog, 
Death of a Government Clerk, 
The Ninny, 
A Blunder, 
The Huntsman, 
The Chemist's Wife, 
The Black Monk, 
Vanka, 
The Chorus Girl,
and  Gusev (makes ten, but it's just a little Coda from a lyrical -- not tragic -- piece of this story).

Anton Chekhov was an author of brilliant short stories, he wrote hundreds, yet he is best known today as one of the world's greatest playwrights.  His short stories are filled with the compassion and humor of an observer who is both uncle and journalist, critic and poet, witnessing episodes in the lives of a vast array of flawed men and women.  Chekhov's stories most concisely express his sentiments about the human character:  we are beautiful and ridiculous and funny and heartbreaking.


THE NAME:

"Chekhovek" [Russian; derived from chelovek, meaning person; vek, meaning century, or life (arch.); and Anton Pavlovich Chekhov, author, 1860-1904]

A comedy about desire, death and foolishness, in 15 scenes.




CAST & CREATIVE CREW

Starring in Chekhovek, presented in this engagement by The Actors' Ensemble and GoShow Entertainment, are Eddie Allen, David Anderson, Elizabeth Fountain, Rob Leo Roy, and Celia Schaefer. 

Director and adaptor Melania Levitsky, who has lived in Russia, has been working on adapting Chekhov short stories for the stage for some time.  Last year, a version was performed upstate by Walking the Dog Theater, for which she is associate artistic director.

Scenic design is by David L. Arsenault, lighting is by Nastassia Jimemez and costumes are by Erica E. Evans. 





CHEKHOVEK is an entertaining enactment of stories by Chekhov, adapted by Melania Levitsky.

There have been many adaptations of Chekhov's stories for the stage, notably including Neil Simon's The Good Doctor on Broadway. I've even done some myself.

There have been many styles of adaptation. The style chosen for Chekhovek is to narrate excerpts from the stories and then dramatize and perform selected sections, especially those with dialog in the original story. This works very well. Checkhov, even when translated, is a very subtle writer, and hearing selections verbatim enriches the story (as compared with a pure, narration-less dramatization).

Perhaps the most extreme version of this technique is GATZ, Elevator Repair Service's adaptation of The Great Gatsby.  This production of Chekhovek does not go to the extremes of GATZ -- it is several stories, excerpted, not a single story from beginning to end; and it uses stage design and costumes effectively.  But thinking about both GATZ and Chekhovek suggests the power of this technique on stage. (Would it work in film?) It suggests that it might be interesting to try this approach to stage the complete story, "Lady with a Lapdog," rather than just an except mixed with other stories.

The cast is very good.  The most effective is perhaps Celia Schaefer, in both Lady with a Lapdog and The Chemist's Wife.

Eddie Allen and Celia Schaefer
Lady with a Lapdog
Chekhovek


There was a feeling, however, that some of the performances were still a bit tentative. At the early preview that I attended, some of the actors seemed to be trying out different approaches to speaking the language in a way that suggests Russian characters, causing a bit of inconsistent characterization; they seemed to sometimes be most uncomfortable with the heavy use of names with patronymics. ("Yegor Vlassitch"..."Dmitri Dmitritch"..."Ilya Sergeitch Peplov and his wife Kleopatra Petrovna Peplova")

I think there might have been a deliberate choice in the adaptation of "Lady with a Dog" (note: personally, I prefer the translation of the title as "Lady with a Lapdog") to make Celia (as Anna) seem younger and more attractive as she falls in love.  Still, I would have like to see her looking radiant -- though distracted and lost and very secretly looking for adventure -- at the very first moment we encounter her.

The second act seemed to include quite a few sad and troubling stories, so the play ends on a bit of a down.  Even Lady with a Lapdog, a story about finding true love, has an ending that is quite complicated in tone, and not just "happily ever after:"

"And it seemed as though in a little while the solution would be found, and then a new and splendid life would begin; and it was clear to both of them that they had still a long, long road before them, and that the most complicated and difficult part of it was only just beginning."

I suspect that reading Chekhov's stories before seeing this play would enhance it's enjoyment.  (And if you can't do that, I would strongly recommend reading the stories after!  Melania Levitsky has indeed picked a terrific selection of stories. )

In addition to Lady with a Lapdog, my favorite section was the portrayal of "The Chemist's Wife".
 
All in all, the play Chekhovek did give an accurate impression and a very enjoyable account of nine of Chekhov's most brilliant stories.




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