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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
CHEKHOV/TOLSTOY: LOVE STORIES
at Theatre Row

FALLEN LEAVES
By JOE DZIEMIANOWICZ

  Ph: Maria Baranova

On paper there’s something promising and rich about Chekhov/Tolstoy: Love Stories. Two short stories dealing with love and spirituality by two great Russian writers who shared reciprocal admiration and ideological differences dramatized by English playwright Miles Malleson are performed by one overlapping cast. On stage at Theater Row, however, as written and acted, the Mint Theater Company production seldom rises above being so-so. Each half is stubbornly self-contained, not mutually illuminating.

The Artist, adapted in 1919 from Chekhov’s 1896 tale "An Artist’s Story," is up first. Directed by Jonathan Bank, artistic head of the Mint, the playlet’s Russian countryside setting is evoked by a few sticks of furniture and is dominated by artwork of an enormous tree ablaze in fiery autumnal orange. Beautiful, yes, but sad too, since days are numbered for vivid leaves. Death hangs in the air. That notion is a fitting one as Nicov (Alexander Sokovikov), the chronically grumpy titular painter, converses with two sisters. Do-gooding, community-minded Lidia (Brittany Anikka Liu) doesn’t buy Nicov’s argument that art is what makes life meaningful. Impressionable younger Genya (Anna Lentz), meanwhile, is smitten. So is he. Chekhov being Chekhov, however, romantic love, like fall leaves, can wither and drop in a heartbeat.

Michael, adapted in 1917 from Tolstoy’s 1885 fable "What Men Live By," unfolds before artwork of an inverted tree – we see an elaborate root system. It’s a twisty story. So much so one wonders if the Russian peasant setting isn’t in the neighborhood of the Twilight Zone. That’s not so far-fetched as the work, directed by Jane Shaw, follows the impact of mysterious Michael (Malik Reed) on all he encounters – directly or indirectly. That includes Simon (J. Paul Nicholas), a shoemaker who takes Michael in after finding him naked on the side of the road; Simon’s wife (Kate Firth), who is unsettled by Michael’s weird smile; an elderly woman (Vinnie Burrows); a nobleman (Sokovikov) and his servant (Lentz); and the adoptive mother of two young girls (Liu). What’s love got to do with it? Everything. Not the romantic kind, but one of a higher order. Who Michael is eventually becomes clear – emphatically so thanks to a heavy-handed script. Here, nuance gets swept aside like fallen leaves.

 


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