Thursday, May 06, 2010

The Forest

A contemporary of Tolstoy's, Alexander Ostrovsky has been described as "the king of 19th Century Russian theatre" (CSC Newsletter) and "the bridge" between Gogol and Chekhov (Pearl Playgoer's Supplement). In The Forest, Ostrovsky assembles a selfish widow, a slow-moving sardonic servant, poor relatives, star-crossed lovers, a wily merchant, and the widow's charismatic actor nephew and his comic friend. Hearts are broken and mended, a gun is brandished, parts of the forest are sold, promises go unkept, and the two itinerate performers provide high-falutin' speeches and low-falutin' humor. The characters and the story would seem to be rooted in Chekhov; however, chronologically speaking, Chekhov's work is actually rooted in Ostrovsky's. The first act drags; some of the plot devices creak; but overall The Forest is worthwhile both as a historical piece and in and of itself. John Douglas Thompson dazzles as the dramatic actor, and Tony Torn sharpens his excellent comic turn with a nice edge of anger. The usually wonderful Dianne Wiest isn't quite; her very contemporary voice works against her. Santo Loquasto's set design, while handsome and effective, includes stairs so steep that the performers seemed in danger. (Is this a theme this year? Sondheim on Sondheim also features stairs that justify hazard pay for the actors.)

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