Annie

So what was in your pockets?

Leeds

I think that Kittson O’Neil, who directed, is an amazing dramaturg. I worked on a show where she was the dramaturg for a new play and I think she has an amazing ear for structure and writing.

Annie

I’ve worked with Hedgerow before and had an ok experience. It doesn’t really bias me one way or the other, but I have worked there. I think more importantly, I don’t get Chekhov. I know that it’s supposed to be important, but I don’t get it. And I think it’s really boring.

Leeds

I really love Chekhov. I guess that’s in my pockets, too.

Annie

Do you want to start with design?

Leeds

Sure. The design really bothered me, actually because it seemed to be coming from so many different directions. The chairs were in a modern style and mint green, while the tables were rustic wood, except for the red chair that Serebryakov slept in…

Annie

I have a lot of questions about that chair! In addition to being bright red, which would make me think that it’s very important- maybe symbolizing a throne or something, it had a weird…almost a cancer on it?

Leeds

Right! It had been deliberately altered but in a style that didn’t match anything else on stage, and I couldn’t figure out why. And there was also that table of green medicine bottles that was interesting to look at but had a very modern, intentional look that didn’t fit with the other items on stage. And all of this was framed by long, gauzy curtains which, again, were of a totally different style from everything else.

Annie

And the tree.

Leeds

Right, and the tree. Which seemed to be decaying, almost? The fact that the tree motif extended around the ring that the gauzy curtains hung from made me confused about where this play was taking place. In the house? In a garden?

Annie

There is no set designer credited for the show. Maybe that’s the problem? Sebastienne Mundheim is credited as Visual Director, but I’m not sure that’s the same thing.

Leeds

One more thing I want to say about the curtains. This play is about people who are confined, cramped and can’t escape. It’s totally counterintuitive to set it in an environment which is all about openings, escape routes and flexibility. It did a really poor job of creating the world.

Annie

I agree with that, but I was more bothered by the set changes themselves. The set changes were preset, like for a dance.

Leeds

Right and the house lights went down before the scene change that happened during intermission, so we were definitely supposed to be watching them.

Annie

Right, but they didn’t feel like they were in the world of the play. The singing did, I guess, in that it was Russian, and the (stagehands? actors?) who were doing the scene changes were in costume, but they weren’t doing the changes in character. They were doing them with the efficiency of a normal scene change. And clipping large carabiners onto a curtain definitely doesn’t belong to the world of the play. So I was really confused about why our attention was directed to the scene changes, because it didn’t seem to add anything to the story. And like you said, when they were up, they made the place look like a beach vacation paradise, not the last crumbling asset of a trapped academic.

Leeds

Regardless, using those big poles to push the curtains was a beautiful visual.

Annie

I agree! It was really pretty! It just didn’t belong to the play. I think that about the curtains in general.

Leeds

One more picky thing about the set dressing, I really wish we hadn’t been able to see the maps that Dr. Astrov had made. I would have much preferred to imagine them. Looking at his artistic style and level of talent left me to judge him in a way that I don’t think was intended.

Annie

How about costumes by Sarah Mitchell?

Leeds

I thought they were thoughtful and appropriate. They were true to the period, they represented the characters well. Elena’s clothes clearly distanced her from Sonya in class and position. The color palate separated the country people (browns) from the city people (graysale.)

Annie

I loved Astrov’s clothes. I thought they were the perfect balance of nitpicky and disheveled.

Leeds

I agree. I didn’t love Vanya’s costume, I felt it was a little too put together for someone who is falling apart. However, that was my feeling about the portrayal of the character altogether, so I don’t think that’s on Sarah Mitchell.

Annie

Do you want to say anything else about design before we move on to that? We didn’t talk about lights and sound.

Leeds

I’m pretty neutral on both.

Annie

I was very distracted by the strip of LEDs at the top of the stage. They got in my eyes a lot and also looked busy and distracting over that beautiful old wall they have at Hedgerow. And I found the sound to be a pretty pedestrian. Indication- like carriages leaving- wasn’t really necessary.

Leeds

It’s what the script calls for, though.

Annie

Sure, but I hate it when design tells you exactly what the script tells you. And the sound was so naturalistic when the other design was more suggestive or symbolic.

Leeds

Yes, that is my big complaint overall about the design in this production. There’s no clear vision of how it’s supposed to look and feel. It feels like the designers didn’t work together, or more to the point like the director didn’t have a clear idea of the style the show was supposed to be in. It ended up feeling thrown together.

Annie

I know you want to talk about directing.

Leeds

I do. I was really frustrated with the direction of this play, and I admit that might be because I love it so much. In addition to the lack of stylistic and visual unity, the production itself didn’t have a clear vision. In her director’s notes O’Niell says that the play is truthful and relevant, but neither the notes nor the production say how or why.

Annie

Yeah, we talked about this a little, and I thought this had to do with the acting. I thought that Adam Altman as Vanya started really high, and then had nowhere to go, for example.

Leeds

To me, that’s a directing problem. I don’t think this play knew who its Vanya was. And that came out in a lot of ways. The staging continually put people in straight lines and all at the same level. The same happened with the pacing, which led to a feeling of lack of throughline to the scenes and especially to the monologues.

Annie

That’s Chekhov, though! It’s just a bunch of monologues. It’s people saying how they feel. At length. With nothing happening.

Leeds

Again, that’s in the direction! Chekhov is all about subtext, what characters AREN’T saying.

Annie

How can there be subtext when characters constantly hold forth in this declaratory way?

Leeds

That’s the challenge, though. To play the tension of the situation. This play is about inevitable circumstances. Saying how you feel does not, can not, change the situation. That’s where the stakes and drama come from. Admitting that you love someone, unrequited, or don’t love them, and then being forced to live out your days with them. Wanting to leave and not being able to. This stuff has to be delicately staged and directed so that it doesn’t end up looking like a melodrama.

Annie

I really don’t see it.

Leeds

That’s a shame, though!

Annie

Maybe. But I did enjoy some of the performances. Jared Reed was compelling as Astrov.

Leeds

And I think that’s because he found that tension and desperation and played it. He had his own internal world. His words always felt like they were coming somewhere deeper.

Annie

Maybe. I loved any scene he had with Sonya (Jennifer Summerfield.)

Leeds

Me, too. I think that she used her whole body to tell the story of her longing, and her desperate optimism in a way that transcended the words she had to say.

Annie

I thought you loved Chekhov!

Leeds

I do! I do! But the story is under it, you know? If you just stage it, you miss the point.

Annie

Isn’t that just saying you have to direct your way out of a bad play?

Leeds

Look, this story IS very relevant right now. It’s about an underclass of people whose labor props up an elitist in a fantasy world that they wish they could have. They resent the man who seems to get all the benefit (who is also misterable!) and they hook their longing onto the woman who he chooses. Their anger and resentment becomes dangerous. The way it plays out in terms of class and gender is a perfect parallel for the election. You could choose to tell the story that way. Or you could choose to focus on the emotions of the characters and do a straightforward period piece. But this production does neither. The lack of clarity makes it confusing at best and boring at worst for people like you who already don’t like Chekhov.

Annie

I will take your word for it.

Leeds

Trust me.

 

Cover Photo: Ashley LaBonde

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