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a Drama w/ Comedy & Music
by Anton Chekhov

COMPANY : Soul-stice Repertory Ensemble [WEBSITE]
VENUE : 7 Stages [WEBSITE]
ID# 375

SHOWING : February 27, 2002 - March 17, 2002



Director Heidi Cline
ASM/props Rita Ann Marcec
Stage Manager Olivia Narr
Babakina Ioanna Abdelaziz
Yegourouska Dolph Amick
1st Guest Marcelo Banderas
Gavrila Samantha Bentley
Pyotr Jerry Bilbo
Lebedev Daniel Burnley
Anna Barbara Cole Uterhardt
2nd Guest Luis Hernandez
Ivanov Jeff McKerley
Sasha Maria Parra
3rd Guest Nick Rhoton
Shabelsky Anthony Rodriguez
Nazarovna Mary Stewart
Borkin Al Stilo
Lvov JAS Sustrich
Kosykh Randy Weinstein
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Chekhov Done Right
by Dedalus
Monday, March 18, 2002
The worst thing to ever happen to Chekhov was Stanislavski. Chekhov's plays encompass the range of human emotions, with an emphasis on a self-mocking, somewhat cynical view of one's own importance, a humorous self-appraisal that is usually lost in the Stanislavskian quest for emotional truth. After all, how can you play a character with emotional truth when that character has so dulled his own emotions and spends his entire time hiding whatever emotional truth he has left? The result is usually a long, humorless night in the theatre, often moving, more often puzzling or just plain dull.

It was therefore with great pleasure that I watched Soulstice's production of "Ivanov." This was a play filled with life, with humor and with tragedy, the tragedy made all the more poignant (and truthful -- don't you love irony?) by the humor that comes before it. To echo a previous writer, director Heidi Cline knows Chekhov, loves Chekhov, and is able to share that love with the audience. Typical was the scene near the end, where all the characters are reduced to tears and the audience is reduced to laughter.

Jeff McKerley, in the title role, is, not to be subtle about it, a joy vampire. He is blessed with everything a man could want -- health, social standing, and love. His inability to recognize this has caused him to squander away his fortune, and to literally "suck the life" out of those who are closest to him. With no undue histrionics, Mr. McKerley makes us believe and like this unlikable character. We see the deadness in his eyes even as he mocks himself for having it there. Make no bones about it, this is a layered, subtle and convincing performance, the likes of which I haven't seen in a long time. He is ably supported by Al Stilo, Barbara Cole, Maria Parra, and, especially Sally Robertson, playing the sort of aristocrat who makes the Russian Revolution seem like a good idea. My only quibbles were with JAS Sustrich as Dr. Lvov and Daniel Burnley as Lebedev. While competently performed, I couldn't see these characters past the actors playing them. Perhaps they were the only characters who came across as shallow -- it seemed to me like there should have been more layers to them.

In any case, this was a well-conceived production, well-performed, and, hopefully, a signal that we will be seeing better Chekhov in days to come.

BTW -- if you are interested in renting a Chekhov film that hits every note correctly, look for a Russian movie called "Unfinished Piece for Player Piano" from about 20 or so years ago. It's based on the early play "Platonov" (sp?) but seems as if it was from Checkhov's more mature years. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]
I'll Drink to That!
by Mama Alma
Tuesday, March 12, 2002
Heidi Cline knows Chekhov. If you've lived in Atlanta long enough, you know this. I'm not a scholar, so I approached this production with a certain amount of reluctance. After all, those Russians they're a pretty morose bunch, right? And the playbill promised a dying wife, expressed anguish and a startling conclusion. I had a headache even before the play began.

What I was unprepared for was how FUNNY this play was. Al Stilo is a standout as the boisterous drunk Misha. He becomes the life of any party in two seconds, shouting greetings, romancing the women, setting off fireworks, all to the accompaniment of Dolph Amick's guitar. If things get dull, his solution is, drink more vodka! [This is Al's year as he is also appearing for Soul-stice as Bottom, et al. in "A MidSummer Night's Dream" (where he is equally hilarious) and as the loyal Charley in "Death of a Salesman" (where he is quietly effective).] Whether he's stripping down for a swim or scheming to separate a woman from her purse, he is eminently watchable.

This is an impeccable production (repeat: Heidi Cline knows Chekhov). The smallest roles are inhabited by two youngsters, Samantha Bentley and Jerry Bilbo with the kind of exactness and attention to detail that will have you remembering them long after you leave the theater. Equally memorable are Luis Hernandez, Marcelo Banderas and Nick Rhoton as a kind of Greek chorus of party guests. Mary Stewart, Sally Robertson and Iolanna Abdelaziz are fabulous as a troika of society women you don't want to mess with, and Randy Weinstein, Daniel Burnley and Anthony where-does-he-find-the-time Rodriguez are wonderful as the hapless men who mess with them anyway.

In opposition to all this noise and excitement and LIFE is Jeff McKerley's Ivanov, a man sunk so far down in anger and despair that he's created his own little black hole in the universe, capable of sucking the life out of everything and everyone around him. The soulful Barbara Cole as the dying Anna, and the beautiful Maria Parra as the vibrant Sasha are the poignant bookends to his anguish, but neither they nor the railings of Dr. Lvov (manfully portrayed by JAS Sustrich) can penetrate his ennui. Even Ivanov's anger and tears seem strangely muted. As Anna dies like a sputtering candle, gasping for air, Ivanov resembles nothing so much as the wisp of smoke from an already spent wick.

It takes guts to play a character so emotionally deadened, so heartrendingly lost, so wretchedly bewildered, and skill to do it without letting it slip into parody. McKerley's is a subtly nuanced performance, extraordinary to contemplate. Actors generally engage us, but McKerley doesn't allow himself that luxury. Ivanov has to remain set apart at an exquisite remove from his wife, from his lover, and finally from life.

So, you go. Have fun. Get exhilarated by the cigarette smoke, the booze, the sex. But in the quiet moments, the spaces where the play breathes, pay attention to McKerley's eyes. Watch him make the lights go out. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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