The Hunger and Thirst Theatre Collective’s production of Anton Chekhov’s Ivanov was, quite unexpectedly, a humorous evening of theatre.
I know. Who expects to laugh that much at Chekhov?
While I laughed quite a bit during the Saturday evening performance at the Access Theatre in Lower Manhattan, there were times when I wanted to hand lead actor Christopher Bonewitz (who was outstanding as the tortured title character) a strong dose of medication and a referral to a psychotherapist.
But then again, that’s the maddeningly, ill-fated, narcissistic character that Chekhov created.
In the title role, Mr. Bonewitz played a man who has lost his way in every facet of his being – his marriage, his work and his finances. Married to the sickly Anna (Emily Kitchens), whose affluent parents rejected her when she converted from Judaism to marry him, Ivanov has now “fallen out of love” with her. He leaves her at home each evening while he goes to visit the Lebedyev’s, led by the stern moneylender, to whom Ivanov is severely in debt, Zinaida (Kymberly Tuttle) and her affable, but weak husband Pasha (Timothy J. Cox).
And then there is Sasha (Brittanie Bond), the Lebedyev’s feisty young daughter, who is obsessed with Ivanov and persuades him to marry her. Ivanov’s mistreatment and betrayal of Anna though is harped on by the haughty young doctor, Lvov (Jordan Kaplan) whose constant referral to the “honesty” of his own character makes one wonder how honest he really is.
Rounding out this gloomy picture is a cast of characters through which Chekhov pokes constant fun at: Doctors, lawyers, Counts, rich widows, matchmakers and card fanatics…many of them quite humorous, adding a necessary counterbalance to Ivanov’s unremitting misery.
Director Patricia Lynn chose to frame her production by opening with the last scene of Ivanov’s descent into self-destruction and then take us back in time to reveal how he came to do it. In this way, we really get the sense of a man trapped in a world he is not equipped to live in.
Heavy stuff, right?
Believe it or not, folks…while the show is dramatic and heavy and all that, it is also very, very funny, thanks largely to the razor sharp comic performances of Nate Dendy, as Ivanov’s rascally estate manager Borkin and Kyle Schaefer’s drop dead hysterical turn as a bore who talks about nothing but his recent card games. Each performance hit all the right comic notes and never missed a beat.
On the dramatic end, two performances soared. Of course, I’m referring to the previously mentioned Christopher Bonewitz, who proved outstanding every minute he was on stage as the title character. I’d love to see Mr. Bonewitz take a crack at that ”Hamlet” guy someday. He was well matched by a thoughtful and incisive supporting dramatic performance by Timothy J. Cox, who excelled as an endearing Pasha Lebedyev. Mr. Cox’s performance was so assured and effortless; getting every scene, every relationship, just right. Of all of the relationships in the play, the sort of ”father/son” relationship that developed between these two gifted actors proved the most memorable and touching.
Brian Keith MacDonald’s grand turn as the pompous aristocrat Shabelsky was also standout, as were Jordan Kaplan as Anna’s self-righteous doctor and Brittanie Bond, quite sharp and on point as Sasha, who naïvely believes she can restore Ivanov’s joy of life.
Director Lynn deserves high marks for the productions’ rapid fire pace, but especially for not taking the work so seriously, which was always a major gripe that the playwright had about productions’ of his work during his lifetime.
This production proves that when you combine comedy and drama successfully, people can walk away not only moved to tears, but amused as well. That’s how life is!
Ivanov continues at the Access Theatre until October 20th. For tickets, please visit Smarttix.com