Saturday, July 28, 2007

EAST TO EDINBURGH: The Nina Variations

I love Steven Dietz's concept of trimming Chekhov's The Seagull so that the only story is that of Konstantin Gavrilovich Treplev's love for Nina, and I like Douglas Rome's staging of the work, with a computer counting up through the 42 different scenes they've created as the ensemble (11 Ninas and 4 Treplevs) either sit facing the back wall, or glide in and out of center stage. I don't think it's fair to criticize high school students, but the performance of the piece itself is where The Nina Variations falters most. Chekhov is extremely difficult, and as a result, the show is at best a marvelous invitation to watch an ensemble doing a very specific set of scene-study exercises. However, because all the actors end up resembling each other very much, and because the scenes aren't variations so much as different scenes, there's a lack of risk in the 42 "moments" that become stifling and, to be honest, boring: it is, as Nina says, "Words alone," and the few finely accented moments (#7 delves into subtext, #40 is an freshly minted monologue by Kostya after his suicide). There's no doubt that all involved have a love for Chekhov, but they ought to listen to what they're actually saying: "Form is not the important thing . . . Soul is."

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