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| A CurtainUp Berkshires Review
The Nina Variations
How long does it take to write a play? -- Nina. |
Having seen some updates of Chekhov's always trenchant plays, including The Seagull,
I'm not ready to say that a Chekhovian homage can't work with a contemporary twist. No doubt about it however, Steven Dietz's endless series of variations on that play's famous last scene is less a twist than a twisted conceit that fails as either homage or original play. If there was a prize for the most pretentious, ill-conceived and tedious offering seen during this busy summer 2005 in the Berkshires, The Nina Variations would be a strong contender.
Rebecca Brooksher and Nick
(Photo: Rick Teller)
I hasten to add that I have found much to admire about Dietz who's one of our most prolific and widely produced regional theater playwrights. I liked Shakespeare & Company's production of his Private Eyes well enough to see it twice. I thought his first outing with a major New York theater company, Fiction, savvy enough to make a potentially B-Movie fatal illness plot believably complex, smart and endearing. Even Chekhov himself wrote some minor plays, so Dietz can be forgiven for this misstep.
What exactly makes The Nina Variations such a disappointing entry into the worthy Miniature Theatre of Chester's season? Let me count the ways.
The two young actors, Rebecca Brooksher and Nick Newell, do their best to make the most of this acting opportunity which keeps them on stage throughout the 90 minutes. Brooksher is an especially appealing performer. While both actors look good in Branimira Ivanova's shimmery maroon and black outfits, there seems no reason for this color coordination.
To paraphrase Shakespeare's famous "Life's tedious as a twice-told tale", this imaginary multiple replay of Chekhov's climax as an excuse to ruminate on life, writing and form, is tedious as a 42-times told tale. Byam Stevens' bare-bones production provides little variation to these variations and not enough pungent insights to overcome one's wish for a revival of the real thing-- Chekhov's own Seagull.
Dietz's use of Chekhov to ruminate about living life to the fullest without losing yourself in the process, about passion and jealousy -- not to mention, aging ("Were tricked by youth". . ."we think every new day will bring something new") does not make for a meaningful connection but seems exploitative and gimmicky and, alas, makes the masterful Chekhov sound mundane.
- Byam Stevens' vision for the play prompts another alas. As already mentioned his direction is as unvaried as the playwright's variations. The projected Scene 1, Scene 2, etc. headers and the bell announcing each new one don't help to diminish the tedium. With the announcement about cell phones including the information about the number of scenes to expect one's consciousness of the slow-motion move through that daunting number is underscored. By the time you reach scene 25 or 26, that final #42 seems like an unreachable oasis in the desert.
To sum up, Mr. Dietz has over-stretched the meaning of the quote in the program from The Seagull's third act -- "If you ever have need of my life, come and take it. " I don't think Chekhov intended this as an open sesame to playing charades with his work.
As a playwright is entitled to have an occasional misfire, so is the scrappy little Chester theater. Its revival of The Retreat to Moscow made such a hit that it moved to another venue in Pittsfield for an extra week of life. The company's last play of the season, Rock City, is a continuation of the charming 2001 production of Last Train to Nibroc so I have high hopes for being able to give readers a much more positive report. More on that later this month.
LINKS TO OTHER STEVEN DIETZ PLAYS
Last of the Boys
| THE NINA VARIATIONS
Playwright: Steven Dietz
Director: Byam Stevens
Cast: Rebecca Brooksher and Nick Newell
Set Design: Steven Mitchell
Costume Design: Branimira Ivanova
Lighting Designer: Lara Dubin
Composer: Bart Fasbender
Running Time: 90 minute, no Intermission
Miniature Theatre of Chester, Chester Town Hall, 413-354-7771 www.miniaturetheatre.org
August 3 to August 14, 2005
Wed to Sat @8, Thursdays and Sundays at 2pm -- $21-$15; $10 students
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer on August 4th