ThresholdRep Captures Essence of Chekhov
Writing about his native Russia during his lifetime, on the eve of the Russian Revolution, Chekhov sought only, in his words, “the art of the quiet truth.” In his much-produced 1901 drama, what one wealthy family experiences during those turbulent times provides insight not only into this historic period, but also offers a wealth of life’s challenges that are no less significant today.
While this is no “parlor melodrama,” all the action is concentrated in the Prozorov home, among four grown siblings whose parents are deceased. Olga (Sarah Wallis Craven) exudes maternal instincts, the only character who does not allow herself to show either passion or angst. Masha (Haydn Haring), married at 18 to a professor at the local high school (Brendan Kelly as Kulygin) is bored and frustrated enough to fall quite in love with Vershinin (Paul O’Brien), the dashing captain of the local militia, alas, married to a mentally unstable woman.
The youngest sister Irina (Hannah Martin) dreams of moving to the Big City—Moscow—where she is sure she will find excitement, opportunity and the love of her life, although she finally agrees to marry Baron Tuzenbach (Jay Danner). Brother Andrei (Peter Galle), an introverted professor type who yet has no profession, loves and marries Natasha (Aly Howard), a “vulgar” woman of a lower social class who makes Andrei a father several times over, has a raging affair, and quickly appoints herself the head of the household. Andrei falls into gambling, mortgages the estate to cover his mounting debts, and ends a furiously unfulfilled man pushing a pram just as social unrest comes to their town in a calamitous event.
The thumbnail sketch above does not begin to explore what you are going to get in this two-and-a-half hour show: unhappy marriages, affairs, political unrest, celebrations including dancing and songs, sudden death, the perils of aging, and a great deal of “philosophizing” on subjects as diverse as work ethics and human relationships so engagingly rendered it is never less than fascinating.
You also have, among the uniformly effective cast of fourteen highly skilled actors, nine men, including a cadre of servants, friends and soldiers, each with a pivotal role, whose identities can be confusing because as in Russian novels, the names bandied about, that is, used familiarly, are not necessarily the same as those listed. Let me continue to clear this up for you so you can fully enjoy this complex and handsomely directed drama: Fedotik (Matthias Burrell) is the soldier with the camera; Chebutykin (Joel Flores) is the old family friend who drinks too much; Rode (Tommy George) is another young soldier; Solyony (Kyley Magley), actually a soldier but not in uniform, isolates himself from the gatherings until he reveals himself as a threateningly insistent suitor of Irina; Ferapont (Charlie Watts) is the old, hard-of-hearing servant. Now you have everyone, with the exception of Anfisa, the elderly servant you can’t miss, as Cate Maniscalco pitches her voice squeakily high and consistently annoying (perfect for her part).
The other elements of good theater speak to the professionalism of this company. Period sets by Michael Kordek, props by Shana Solomon (with thanks to the Footlight Players’ resident set designer Richard Hefner for the use of the Victorian-era baby carriage, lovingly restored by a ThresholdRep board member) are as authentic as Paul McCrae’s stunning costumes. Judicially chosen music adds to the ever-changing mood of the piece, and direction by Judy Townsend of all these actors on a small stage in an intimate space is nothing short of extraordinary. Townsend has masterfully blocked the production so that the entire company, especially the three sisters and Jay Tanner, Joel Flores, Peter Galle and Paul O’Brien, move naturally, with grace and purpose.
I cannot imagine why you would not run, not walk, to catch this memorable evening of theater.