Saturday, April 30, 2016

IVANOV • St. Louis Actors' Studio

Nikolai Ivanov, and most of his countrymen, are suffering from numbing boredom. But Ivanov is not only bored as hell, he’s irascible. He disparages just about everyone who crosses his path, he neglects his sick wife in favor of socializing with friends, and he’s up to his nose in debt. St. Louis Actors' Studio closes its ninth season with an excellent production of Anton Chekhov’s first full-length play, written in 1887 and set against the cold, rural Russian countryside. With dreary outlooks spiked with humorous satire, it feels like a prototype for his trademark themes, and there’s a visible gun. So you know what that means.

Drew Battles plays Ivanov with a palpable fatigue -- languishing under a weight of self loathing he can’t figure out. His depression never seems to damper the mood of Borkin though. He manages Ivanov’s mostly barren farms, always coming up with schemes to make money, and Dave Wassilak lends a comically inflated confidence to every plan he hatches. Adding to the humor is Ivanov’s penniless Uncle, Count Shabelsky (Bobby Miller), who lives with Ivanov. In between his grumbling, he’s just about the only one who shows Anna (Julie Layton), Ivanov’s wife of five years, withering from tuberculosis, any compassion. Anna’s doctor, Lvov (Reginald Pierre), is also an Anna advocate. Lvov is disgusted by Ivanov’s treatment of her and exasperated at the very mention of him. While Lvov insists that he is an honest man, Pierre’s cagey portrayal keeps you guessing at his motives, and his patient, keenly portrayed by Layton, is affectingly tragic.

Photo Credit: Patrick Huber
Despite Ivanov’s disposition, Anna still adores him, even though he would rather spend his evenings away from home. She gave up Judaism and converted to the Russian Orthodox Church to marry Ivanov, resulting in no dowry, which would have provided Ivanov with a welcome financial boost. The debt he owes is to the Lebedevs -- a couple he’d rather hang out with than his poor wife. Lebedev (B. Weller) enjoys Ivanov as fodder for conversation, but his wife Zinaida (Teresa Doggett) doesn’t so easily forget Ivanov’s debt to them. Their daughter, Sasha (Alexandra Petrullo) however, is taken with Ivanov and they share an unexpected kiss, that’s seen by Anna.

Ivanov (Drew Battles).
Photo Credit: Patrick Huber
Under Wayne Salomon’s direction, the large cast gives solid performances, and the technical designs are effective. Patrick Huber’s scenic design includes wooden horizontal planks and blue vertical neons that add a feeling of being caged, and the lights brighten and dim with Ivanov’s appearances and retreats, with staging that keeps the players onstage for much of the play.

Only a couple more chances to check out this rarely produced, strongly executed production.

Photo Credit: Patrick Huber

Written by Anton Chekhov, translated by Tom Stoppard
Directed by Wayne Salomon
The Gaslight Theater, 358 N. Boyle Ave.
through May 1 | tickets: $30 - $35
Performances Thursdays to Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 3pm

Ivanov: Drew Battles*
Borkin: Dave Wassilak
Shabelsky: Bobby Miller*
Cast of “Ivanov”.
Photo Credit John Lamb
Anna: Julie Layton
Sasha: Alexandra Petrullo
Lvov: Reginald Pierre
Lebedev: B. Weller
Zinaida: Teresa Doggett
Babakina: Cara Barresi
Lipa: Shannon Nara
Avdotya: Jan Meyer
Yegorushka: Clayton Bury
Gavrila: Léerin Campbell

Scenic Designer: Patrick Huber
Costume Designer: Teresa Doggett
Props Designer: Carla Landis Evans
Lighting Designer: Patrick Huber
Sound Designer: Wayne Salomon
Scenic Painter: Cristie Johnston
Stage Manager: Amy J. Paige
Master Electrician: Dalton Robison
Technical Director: Jon Hisaw
Light Board Operator: Carla Landis Evans
Sound Board Operator: Amy J. Paige
House Manager: Kimberly Sansone

* Denotes member of Actors’ Equity Association, the Union of
Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States

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