Wednesday, November 21, 2012


How do you like your classics acted? Do you like naturalism with a touch of formality? Somewhat stagey orating? A colloquial, contemporary attitude? Monotones? Performances totally in the service of the play? Performances totally in the service of the actor's ego?
Juliet Rylance, Ethan Hawke, Joely Richardson
Photo: Josh Lehrer
Whatever your preference, it's on display in the sporadically interesting Classic Stage Company production of Chekhov's Ivanov, directed by Austin Pendleton with little interest in consistency. It's a lovely thing when actors get to express themselves, but it's even lovelier when they are all in the same play--or even in the same century.

Ivanov (Ethan Hawke), who has either depression or manic-depression, has gotten himself into a corner, with tremendous debts, a dying wife, and a heart and a brain that switch from being empty to being filled with hurricanes of guilt and self-hatred. Borkin (the unnecessarily noisy Glenn Fitzgerald), the manager of Ivanov's estate, has many plans to save it. However, Ivanov, with the "we-don't-do-those-sorts-of-things" principles that often ruin the lives of Chekhov's landowners, vetoes them all. (If this were the Cherry Orchard, Borkin would end up owning Ivanov's land.) Ivanov is offered a chance of rescue by Sasha (Juliet Rylance), the much-younger daughter of an old friend and a prototypical woman-who-loves-too-much.

The biggest problem with this production is Ethan Hawke, who tears his hair and his vocal cords in an unconvincing, frequently annoying performance that in no way acknowledges that he's supposed to be in Russia in the 1880s. Its biggest asset is the amazing Juliet Rylance, who gives an honest, textured, subtle, and moving performance that stands out amid the general messiness like a classic fountain pen in a pile of discount multicolored metallic gels. The best scenes are those between her and Austin Pendleton, who is wonderful as her father. When the two of them are together, there are hints of how interesting a play Ivanov could actually be.

(first row center; CSC subscription)

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