International Concerts continues its tradition of presenting the finest international talent with
Russia’s Maxim Gorky Drama State Theater’s IVANOV.
IVANOV – review by Deirdre Donovan, Theater Scene
Coming on the heels of Classic Stage Company’s Ivanov, the Maxim Gorky State Drama Theatre brought authentic Russian definition to Chekhov’s 1887 play. For one performance only at John Jay College’s Gerald Lynch Theater (on November 17), in repertory with Jacques Deval’s Tovarich (on November 16 and 18), theatergoers had a chance to see Chekhov’s Hamlet performed in Russian with authority and flair.
Should you not be familiar with this gem of a company, it is one of the most prestigious repertory companies in the Russian Far East, purveying world classics and contemporary Russian works since 1932. Touring in Russia and abroad, this company based in Vladivostok has distinguished itself both for its all-Russian productions and its bilingual productions with American companies. This company cross-fertilizes its repertoire with Chekhov, Shakespeare, and other world-class playwrights.
As directed by Efim Zvenyatskiy, this production had no bells and whistles accompanying it. This was Ivanov unembellished, ungarnished, and yet possessing the full meaning of Chekhov’s play. Here you saw a number of expert actors who were not only virtuosos but seemed to have Chekhov running through their corpuscles. Unlike Classic Stage Company’s interpretation of Ivanov, Gorky’s rendering had less spin and more spine. In short, there was no gilding the lily here.
The set was extremely basic. The veranda and garden of Ivanov’s estate was evoked by a broad, semi-circular platform with minimal props on stage, with paths leading off in various directions. It was elegant, simple, and natural-looking, and flexibly accommodated the play’s multiple scenes and unfolding action.
For any production of Ivanov to succeed, the actor playing the lead must be spot on. And, fortunately, Alexander Slavskiy, as Ivanov, had his complex character down pat. He doesn’t overplay anything but let Chekhov’s language take hold. Slavskiy’s did much of his acting through his facial expressions. His Ivanov had a vacant look in his eyes and a pervasive torpor in his physical movements. As you followed his self-castigating character through the play’s four acts, you would hardly consider him as a potential guest for your next dinner party, but you would be able to understand his dilemma. Ivanov is that intellectual who, like Shakespeare’s melancholy prince, “loses the name of action.” Given different surroundings, this Russian rogue might grab life by the horns and make something of himself. However, living in Central Russia, and the victim of gossip-mongers, Ivanov is somebody whose early promise is never realized.
This was not a one-man show. There was some strong acting from Svetlana Salakhutdinova, who played opposite Slavskiy as his stage wife Sarra Ivanova. Salakhutdinova has been the leading actress of the Gorky theatre since 1984. Little wonder that she looked so polished on stage. Other fine performances came from Olga Nalitova as the flirty Sasha and Nikolai Timoshenko as Borkin who blended his character’s pessimism with arrogance. In many ways, his character neatly sums up the world of the play when he observes: “This life of ours . . . Human life is like a posy, growing gloriously in a meadow, a goat comes along, eats it, end of posy.”
Although the production itself was superb, there was one big drawback: it was acted in Russian with no English subtitles. True, audience members could rent earphones in the lobby (for an additional $10), which provided one with an English translator who spoke in synch with the live stage production. But listening to the voice of the translator and following the production at the same time was no easy task, and often frustrating.
That said, what New York theatergoers need is more exposure to seeing Chekhov done by first-rate Russian companies. There’s no doubt that English subtitles would have made the production more accessible, and enjoyable, to those audience members who don’t understand Russian. Still, it was a rare opportunity for New Yorkers to experience Chekhov with an authentic Russian flavor.