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A CurtainUp Review

What an exalted, what a happy lot! — Kovrin
Rob Leo Roy, Celia Schaefer and Eddie Allen in "The Chemist's Wife"
(Photo: Dan Region)
The good news about Chekhovek, The Actorsí Ensemble and GoShow Entertainmentís adaptation of nine short stories by the Russian master Anton Chekhov, is its respectful treatment of a form which too often (if understandably) gets overlooked by the theater in favor of his plays. Director and story adapter Melania Levitsky clearly understands the theatrical potential in all of Chekhovís work, and she deserves a great deal of credit for bringing the lesser known work to the stage. Iím not convinced, though, that the execution quite matches the vision. Ultimately, the respectfulness of the presentation may take away more than it gives.

Certainly this isnít the result of lazy construction. Levitsky read over fifty stories before choosing the nine which make up this production which weaves together tales of a village chemistís wife, a foolish nanny and a shoemakerís young apprentice among others to interesting effect. Tying the whole performance together is the one multi-part narrative, one of Chekhovís most famous stories, "The Lady With The Dog." This story often resonates in surprising ways with the other tales around and between which itís placed.

Offstage, composer and violin player Jonathan Talbott uses his music to further connect the disparate parts of the production into a more coherent whole. In less competent hands this could be a disaster, but here the effect is pulled off rather well, and Levitsky gets the credit for making it happen. Her cast is also solid, with a fine chemistry shared among the five actors, shifting roles from story to story rapidly and seamlessly, without seeming rushed or panicked. And indeed, in general this is a quiet, thoughtful production. . .almost relaxed in its feel, drifting at times among narrative lines and between human interactions.

No character grates in the way Chekhovís most memorable stage roles sometimes can. Everyone seems to fit smoothly into a recognizable and consistent pattern. And that, unfortunately, is a problem. For all of the playís respect, even reverence, for Chekhov some of the piercing quality of his vision seems to be lost here. In part that may be attributed to the inclusion of stories that are minor ones which Levitsky notes ďChekhov himself once dismissed as pocket change drivel.Ē But even the more major ones, like the exceptional "Lady with the Dog," seem a little muted and washed out. Consequently this often just isnít very dramatic, coming across at times as more of a minor character study than a deep exploration of the human condition. Chekhovek bills itself as a comedy, but in truth it is more often serious than humorous, if not particularly tragic. Yet serious or humorous, the result is usually the same: thereís so much nuanced restraint in the performance that the psychological weight seems drained away, and the result is more intellectually interesting than emotionally resonant.

I donít mean to come down too hard on Chekhovek. In some ways itís nice to see a calmer, more sensitive production which doesnít throw away subtlety to hammer home a series of trite meanings, and thereís no doubting the commitment of ensemble and director to the adaptation. But respect is one thing; white glove treatment is another. Even a risk-averse production of Uncle Vanya, The Three Sisters, or will usually leave an audience struck by the raw intensity of Chekhovís insight. Here, the reaction is more likely to be clinical detachment, and I donít know that either Chekhovek or its author benefits from the trade.


Based on short stories by Anton Chekhov
Adapter and Director: Melania Levitsky
Cast: Eddie Allen, David Anderson, Elizabeth Fountain, Rob Leo Roy, Celia Schaefer
Scenic Designer: David L. Arsenault
Lighting Designer: Nastassia Jimenez
Costume Designer: Erica Evans
Music Composer and Performer: Jonathan Talbot
Running time: Two hours with a fifteen minute intermission
ArcLight Theater, 151 West 71st St., (212) 595-0355
From†2/1/12 to 3/4/12; opening 2/7/12
Tues. - Sat. @ 8 p.m., Sat. - Sun. @ 2 p.m.
Tickets: $35
Reviewed by Dr. Gregory A. Wilson based on February 2nd press performance
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