Review by Tulis McCall
(6 May 2010)
Okay – Diane Wiest slays me. She has what theatre folk refer to as an ‘inner life,” but it also could be called an “inner light”. There is something going on with her every minute she is onstage. She is never passive, even when she is.
So she would be the main reason to go see this show. You will have to sit through a somewhat slow first act while all the various plot points are set in place, but then you have seen Chekov haven’t you?
Well this is not Chekhov. This is BC. Before Chekhov. Funny isn’t it how our icons seem to define time on their own. We forget that all of us stand on the shoulders of our ancestors. Alexander Ostrovsky was certainly an ancestor of Chekhov, and this play has the forest to prove it.
This is the story of one of those darn old families who may have to sell off the forest in order to survive. In this case the seller is Raisa Gurmzhskaya -say that three times fast - (Diane Wiest), and she is not selling everything, just bits and pieces. She needs money for a dowry for Aksyusha (Lisa Joyce), a young distant relative who lives with her. She has arranged for her to be courted by Aleksie Sergeevich (Adam Driver), but the wrinkle in the flypaper is that Raisa would like Aleksie for herself. An older woman and a younger man – who woulda thunk? Meanwhile, Aksyusha has eyes for another, Pyotr (Quincy Dunn-Baker), but in either case she still needs money, because who will take on a woman without a dowry? Ah yes – back to reality.
Into this mix blast two itinerant actors Gennady (John Douglas Thompson) and Arkady (Tony Torn). Tired of the road they are and willing to depend on the kindness of Gennady’s Aunt Raisa for a little while. In order to pull it off, however, they disguise themselves as a retired military man and his valet, because actors are a disreputable sort and not likely to foster pity in the form of free room and board. They arrive just as Vosmibratov (Sam Tsoutsouvas) is about to swindle Raisa out of her land with a sort of three card monty scheme. Gennady saves the day and continues to do so until all the distracted parties are paired up as they should be and the monies are in the right hands.
Like I said, this takes awhile to get started. So Wiest has double duty both as the main character and as the person who keeps you awake. She is aided by the very satisfying performance of John Christopher Jones as Karp whose dispassion for his job as servant is matched only by Jones skill as an actor. The rest of the cast is an able bunch, and in particular I enjoyed Lisa Joyce and George Morfogen as Bodaev who sparkles and brings new meaning to the phrase “crotchety old man”.
And a word about the set by Santo Loquasto – stunning! With little more than 2x4’s he has created a space that morphs from forest to a traveling road to the interior of a many roomed homed. His creative partner is Peter Kaczorowski who designed the lights. They did a masterful job that transforms the tiny, tiny theatre.
So it’s a fine evening and more than a treat to watch Wiest at work. It would be even more of a treat if Brian Kulick remembered that this is a stage without a proscenium. I had a great seat in the center section, but the people in the side seats got to see more backs than faces. Remember it’s “bang for your buck” not “backs for your buck.” They do this all the time at CSC. Somebody ought to clue them in.