Привет, Ivanov!

Posted on Tuesday, November 27th, 2012 at 11:26 am

It’s always nice to walk into a café and find out it’s a theatre.


Albeit our class had been forewarned, I still found the café to be quite a nice surprise.  It added a very creative, “hipster” ambience to the whole evening, so much so that I felt in the mood for a cup of coffee.


As we walked into the theatre, we were greeted with another surprise: a small theatre with seats on three sides of the square stage, and so close you could see the actors spit (that’s how you know when they get really emotional).


And emotional they were.  The actors, for the most part, played their parts fantastically, so that even when I hadn’t pictured the scene or character in a certain way, I find myself loving the production’s interpretation.


With one exception: Ivanov (Ethan Hawke).  He was annoying, and a whiner, and unsympathetic.  Which is bothersome because, quite frankly, I kind of like the written Ivanov.  I suspect a fraction of my dislike for this Ivanov was due to the different interpretation of Anna (Joely Richardson); I had pictured Anna to be a passive, weak character, similar to Stella from Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire.   Yet Richardson played a strong-willed, bold, smart woman, making Anna more sympathetic and Ivanov much less so.  Maybe their sympathy levels work in an indirect relationship?  I’m digressing.  Ivanov’s character was not unlikable solely because Anna was a strong character.

Listen, Ivanov, I understand you are depressed, slightly crazy, and possibly an unwilling existentialist, but that does not mean you rant and spit and talk faster than a New Yorker.  You should have the normalcy crack subtly and decay; there should be a loud quietness.  You, dear Ivanov, did not seem like a normal guy lost in a mysterious struggle; rather you seemed spoiled.  Unlike J.D. Saligner’s Holden Caulfield, you did not have any reason for your depression, nor did you have witty commentary on the world.  Unlike half the twisted cast from Narita Ryohgo’s Baccano!, you did not speak with conviction, which turned possibly meaningful speeches into unpleasant rants.  I expected you, Ivanov, to be like Richard Corey, the titular character of A.R. Gurney’s play.  Both of you lead lives with little reason to be unhappy (and illicit lovers), yet you both decay, showing that a “happy” person can become disillusioned with life and break.


Now that I’m done with my own rant, let me applaud every other interpretation.  I have already gushed about the pro-feminist performance of Richardson.  Misha Borkin (Glenn Fitzgerald) was less comical than I had pictured, but he was just wonderful.  I almost wish he and Babakina had fallen for each other.  Shabelsky (George Morfogen) was super wry and sarcastic and great!  I would have directed Shabelsky as a more “big” character (such as this production’s Lebedev or a little less extravagant Dulcamara), but gosh darn it I simply adore Morfogen’s version of him.


There were other characters I would have directed differently, but enough of that; as I director, I am impressed with the entire cast and crew.  In theatre, I have been taught to never turn my back to the audience; but when directing on a stage with which the audience is totally involved, that rule is defenestrated with force.  Even so, I never became annoyed if an actor was not facing me, because the proximity of our seats made up for the odd angles we viewed the actors; the inclusiveness was kept, if not increased.


On to some miscellaneous thoughts:


Seeing the performance, I noticed details I hadn’t in the book: the owl being an omen of bad luck, the Hamlet parallels.  I also noticed more French, which was a nice historical touch because upper class Russians used to speak French.


I believe they added baby powder to Hawke’s hair to make him look older.  By the second act his hair was a couple of shades darker.


Uncle Shabelsky is a count… and if you would like to be a count too, you can buy such a title from the Principality of Sealand!


I like the play a lot.  I hope to see or read it in Russian one day, after I have learned the language.

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