Friday, June 26, 2009

Review - From Russia With Angst (WorkShop Theater Company)

Review by Byrne Harrison

From Russia With Angst sounds like a familiar concept - an evening of Chekhov's one-act plays. The twist? These aren't Chekhov's plays; they are adaptations of five of his short stories. So if you're expecting The Bear, A Marriage Proposal, or The Wedding, you won't get it. Instead you'll peer into the mind of one of the world's greatest writers, through the filter of some of the WorkShop Theatre Company's talented writers. The results are mixed, but for fans of Chekhov's writing, are worth exploring.

The first act contains the least successful adaptations, in part due to Chekhov's stories themselves. A perfect example is the second adaptation of the evening, We'll Take a Cup of Kindness Yet, which was adapted by Scott C. Sickles from "Misery." The play deals with a hansom cab driver (Michael Gnat) in Central Park on New Year's Eve. Having just lost his child, he sees other's joy in the evening only through the prism of his loss and sadness. The main problem of the story is that not much happens, and the play has to fight to keep the audience's attention and involvement. Despite some lovely dialogue and good acting on the part of the cast, there is little dramatic tension, just one man's grief laid bare.

Death of a Government Worker by Jonathan Pereira has the look and feel of an absurdist play. A hen-pecked clerk (James Davies) with a shrewish wife and enormous newborn, tries to ask his boss for a raise, but only ends up sneezing on him each time he works up the nerve to ask. The boss (the wonderfully shady Stephen Girasuolo) may be having an affair with the wife. While the nonsensical and absurd aspects of the play work well, a reference to government sponsored torture seems shoe-horned in. Death is an odd little piece, but if you like absurdist comedy, it might be just your thing.

The final play in the first act, Joy by Robert Strozier, succeeds in that it touches on a timely subject, the pursuit of fame at all cost, and that it takes on a more modern feel. A young girl (Sutton Crawford) is having her moment. A YouTube video that she posted is climbing in popularity. Her parents are dismayed to discover that this is due in no small part to her singing a racy song while half-nude and drunk. Like the previous pieces, Joy is a slight play (Chekhov's short story is very short indeed), but it makes it's point - some people are happy to be famous no matter how it happens. Crawford does a good job as the teen, and director Elena Araoz excels.

The second act brings the strongest play of the evening. In Country, written and directed by Timothy Scott Harris, is well-written and extremely moving. This play about an awkward dinner date between Laurie (Dee Dee Friedman) and Steve (Jed Dickson) set up by Laurie's father (Noah Keen), at first seems like it will just be a light play about two mismatched people. Instead, Harris slowly spins a tale about shattered beliefs, the pain of self-discovery, and the fear faced by older people as they begin to realize the world that they knew is gone. Tightly written and directed and featuring an exceptional cast, In Country is reason enough to attend From Russia With Angst.

The final play of the evening, a parody of Chekhov's plays entitled Misery, Apathy and Despair: A Chekhovian Comedy in Four Mercifully Short Acts, by John McKinney, will provide laughs to anyone who is familiar with Chekhov's cannon. The play tends to take potshots at the easiest of Chekhovian targets - the bored upper class, the characters that talk constantly but do nothing, the vacuous lovelies - and leaves subtlety at the door, but it is humorous and a pleasant way to end the evening.

From Russia With Angst
Supervising Director: Timothy Scott Harris
Set Designer: John Scheffler
Lighting Designer: Duane Pagano
Costume Designer: Lexie Devin
Sound and Projection Designer: David Schulder
Production Stage Manager: Jason Healy
Assistant Stage Manager: Eric Luers
Coordinating Producers: Carrie Edel Isaacman, Christina Romanello
Press Representative: Scotti Rhodes Publicity
Promotional Art/Logo: Todd Alan Johnson

Death of a Government Worker
Written by Jonathan Pereira
Based on "Death of a Government Clerk"
Directed by Katrin Hilbe
Featuring: James Davies (Ivan), Stephen Girasuolo (Mr. Breeze), Tracy Shar (Mary)

We'll Take a Cup of Kindness Yet
Written by Scott Sickles
Based on "Misery"
Directed by David Gautschy
Assistant Director: Cecily Benjamin
Featuring: Michael Gnat (Driver), Sean Singer (New Husband/Smooth Talker/Stablehand), Amanda Sayle (New Wife/Debutante/Female Driver), Mike Mihm (Provocateur/Beat Cop/Other Male Driver)

Written by Robert Strozier
Based on "Joy"
Directed by Elena Araoz
Featuring: Carrie Edel Isaacman (Marci), Joseph Franchini (Ted), Sutton Crawford (Ginger)

In Country
Written and Directed by Timothy Scott Harris
Based on "At a Country House"
Featuring: Dee Dee Friedman (Laurie), Noah Keen (Dad), Jed Dickson (Steve)

Misery, Apathy and Despair: A Chekhovian Comedy in Four Mercifully Short Acts
Written by John McKinney
Based on "An Artist's Story"
Directed by Richard Kent Green
Featuring: Liz Frost (Elena), David M. Pincus (Peter), Sutton Crawford (Masha), Caroline Messihi (Lydia)

WorkShop Theater
Main Stage
312 W. 36th Street, 4th Floor East

June 11-27
Wednesday - Saturday at 8 PM
Monday, June 15th at 7 PM

For reservations contact 212-695-4173 x5#

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