Some Odd Twists To Chekov As STLAS Presents “Ivanov”

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Ivanov kisses young Sasha as his wife, Anna, makes a surprise appearance during “Ivanov” at St. Louis Actor’s Studio. Photo: Patrick Huber

St. Louis Actors’ Studio presents a conventional yet slightly askew version of one of Anton Chekov’s lesser known scripts, “Ivanov.” The title character may just win the prize for the gloomiest of all of the gloom and doom folk that parade across any stage presenting a Chekov play. Director Wayne Salomon has populated the small stage with cornucopia of players who sometime leave and sometime just wait at the back of the stage until they are summoned again. Add to that the eerie blue fluorescent lights that ring the log cabin-like set and you’re in for an evening of more than the usual surprises in a Chekov tragedy.

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Lebedev entertains the crowd during a scene of St. Louis Actors’ Studio production of Chekov’s “Ivanov.” Photo: Patrick Huber

The plot is, as usual, a bit convoluted- not really hard to follow- just a lot of characters with back stories and present problems that cause many of them to lose their minds. Drew Battles is superb as the title character. His wife is dying of tuberculosis but he can’t trust the doctor who is caring for her. While he admires the advances of a younger woman, he can’t help but wish that he were free to pursue her. His frustration mounts until he literally bursts with grief and guilt. Julie Layton is delightful as the ailing Anna who relies on the prognosis of the doctor and the good care of Count Shabelsky.

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The country folk gather to gossip during “Ivanov” at St. Louis Actors’ Studio. Photo: Patrick Huber

Bobby Miller is a proper curmudgeon as the Count who must fight off advances from a young woman who is after his title. Dave Wassilak is the sketchy Borkin who adds to the grief of Ivanov as he constantly reminds him of the bills he has buried himself under. Alexandra Petrullo is the saucy Sasha who woos Ivanov and Reginald Pierre does a terrific turn as the doctor attending to Anna.

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Ivanov has one of his many breakdowns as Lebedev consoles him during St. Louis Actors’ Studio production of “Ivanov.” Photo: Patrick Huber

Teresa Doggett has a lot of fun with the gossipy role of Zinaida and B. Weller adds great touches of humor as her husband, Lebedev. He reminds me a lot of Kelsey Grammer and appears to be channeling his inner Frasier Crane in this role. Rounding out the cast are Cara Barresi, Shannon Nara, Clayton Bury, Jan Meyer and Leerin Campbell. There are plenty of outbursts of humor and hilarity amid the gloom of Ivanov and a few of the other characters who are experiencing less than exemplary lives and this adds to the fun of this production.

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The eerie blue-lit stage during a quiet moment in “Ivanov” at St. Louis Actors’ Studio. Photo: Patrick Huber

Wayne Salomon keeps the play moving at a good clip and does a great job of just directing traffic with a large cast on the small STLAS stage. He makes is a play that ebbs and flows with a great mix of laughter and tragedy. That Patrick Huber set and lighting design is inspired with the cabin jutting out and those mysterious blue lights perfectly spaced along both sides and the back wall of the universal set. Teresa Doggett doubles up with a traditional and effective costume design.

Chekov’s “Ivanov” offers a translation adapted by Tom Stoppard- which may account for  some of the absurdity slicing through the Russian’s typical austere proceedings. This strong cast takes it and runs with it making it a delight for the audience. Even Artistic Director William Roth got a laugh in his pre-curtain speech when he mentioned that they forgot to put in the program that a shot will be fired during the play. He mumbled, “yeah, Chekov” as you probably can’t find a Chekov play that doesn’t have gunfire in it as per his long ago instructions- “If a rifle is hanging on the wall in Act I, it must be fired by Act III.”

Have some fun with Chekov (oxymoron?) through May 1st and enjoy “Ivanov” at St. Louis Actors’ Studio. Give them a call at 314-458-2978 for tickets or more information.

 

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