The Chekhov Dreams: A Review
Sometimes in the world of theatre you run into the seemingly perfect show. Everything appears to be just as it should be. The actors are talented and in some cases truly gifted. The script is appropriately funny, or tragic, or both whichever the case may be. The design facets are successfully executed and presented. The direction is in line with the text and equally in sync with the production. The audience is responding right on cue as expected. Yet in spite of all that there’s something just not right overall. As smooth as everything seems, as hard as everyone is working to nail it, there’s a nagging feeling that there’s something rotten in the state of Minsk. The Chekhov Dreams, currently playing at Theatre Row’s Beckett Theatre, is one such show.
Jeremy is an independently wealthy struggling wanna be author. One evening over lots of wine, and a mutual game of guess the quote by which famous literary figure, Jeremy and his recently ex-girlfriend Kate form a blood oath to reach out and remain together in this life and the afterlife. This of course immediately leads to her death in a car accident. Three years later the still rich and now lost Jeremy is struggling to finish his first book. His opus is loosely based on Hans Christian Anderson’s The Snow Queen which was a favorite story of his since childhood. In the midst of the struggle he begins having regular dreams where Kate comes to visit. She taunts, and teases, and seduces him. Her temptations are too great, and his fear of failure is too overwhelming, so Jeremy makes another pact to kill himself and marry his now dead fiancée. This decision is no easy task to complete as his life proceeds to get more complicated.
Jeremy’s narcissistic hedonist of a brother Eddie keeps trying to cure his doldrums to no avail. Jeremy also wants to finish his book before he departs so he takes an acting class to help him release his creative juices. It’s there that he meets his acting scene partner Chrissy. She comes with her own imposing wants and needs including a love of Jeremy’s least favorite author Anton Chekhov. Of course, the scene their working on is from Chekhov’s The Seagull. It’s not long before the dead fiancée becomes jealous and impatient. She not only keeps up her dream visits she also begins appearing in Jeremy’s apartment while he’s awake causing him much distress and added mayhem. On top of all that Chekhov also begins taking on a featured role in his dreams as mentor, advisor, author, and dramaturge.
Dana Watkins as Jeremy has the makings of a good leading man. He pulls off the awkward, dazed and confused romantic, along with the tortured lover and author to be. Elizabeth Inghram as the deceased Kate does very well as mortal girlfriend, seductive spirit, and eventually manipulative evil queen. As Chrissy, the ingenue and Chekhov scene partner, Charlotte Stoiber embodies a hopeful somewhat naive actress in search of true meaning in her work and in matters of the heart.
Christian Ryan as Jeremy’s flawed, heavy drinking, chain smoking lothario of a brother is in fine comic form. His scenes bring a laugh filled breath of fresh air into each scene he appears in. Rik Walter as the legendary director and writer Anton Chekhov is every bit the stately, stern, and imposing dark genius one might expect but he brings with it a sassy comedic edge that is fun to watch.
As already mentioned the cast is a talented lot. While each player plays their part the problem with the ensemble is one of what appears to be nervous energy. No one seems to be able to be still. There’s constant unnecessary movement and in some cases unconscious mirroring of each other’s actions. There’s also that unwavering feeling of trying too hard to please. It’s not always the case. When they connect with themselves, the erratic material, and the house, the ensemble plays very well together but for the most part this is all a hit or miss affair.
In support of the production the design team set themselves some very ambitious goals and for the most part they achieve them. Costume designer Christina Giannini is well represented. Along with the needed every day wear of the characters that inhabit this world she’s able to shine with beautiful period costumes that make the dreams they have so vivid. Lighting designer Diana Duecker and sound designer John McKinney more than ably deliver on setting the mood and the tone for both the real and the surreal proceedings. Scenic designer Scott Aronow had the larger challenge of having to wrangle many settings into one multi-dimensional set. His solution and execution does work nicely even though it was a bit wobbly at times. An extra support here, an additional nail there, and this minor quibble is eliminated.
All is not lost because there’s a gem of a show to be mined her but the excavation would have to go deep. Writer John McKinney and director Leslie Kincaid Burby could and should go back to the drawing boards on this one and uncover all that this script truly has to offer. There are warnings already built into this current version. In his dreamy appearances Chekhov warns of not using too many devices to advance the plot and yet he himself becomes one. He also warns that not everything is to be explained and yet that happens often in this production. Particularly in the fact that the play goes one scene too long for the sake of trying to wrap everything up with a neat bow. In fact, the entire show runs a bit too long. If the next incarnation were trimmed down to a tight intermissonless ninety minutes, as opposed to the overstuffed feeling of the current with an intermission two hour plus version, the entire company might find themselves with a dream worth having again.
Theatre Row Beckett Theatre 410 West 42nd Street www.chekhovdreams.com (212) 239-6200 $44.25
Now Playing Through Feb 17, 2018
From an original post on TheaterScene.