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Arts and Entertainment

Crimea River: Chekhov's Early Play "Ivanov" Splashes About In Shallow Waters

Barry Del Sherman and Brittany Slattery in "Ivanov." Photo - Enci.
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There's something undeniably thrilling about a theatre company unearthing an obscure play by a famous writer—one hopes one is about to see a forgotten masterpiece. Sometimes, however, an uncelebrated work is justifiably obscure, as is the case with Anton Chekhov’s Ivanov.

The lead character is blessed by being both dickish and uninteresting, stuck in a story remarkably free of much incident. Happily, it was one of Chekhov’s early plays—he got much better. Unhappily, it has dragged the Evidence Room and Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, co-producers of my favorite play of last year, Margo Veil, into the mire in their new production, a situation from whence these superb companies are unable to extricate themselves.

The play takes place in late 19th-century Russia, where Ivanov (Barry Del Sherman) has succumbed to a combination of indecision and misery. He loves his wife Anna (Dorie Barton), but refuses to tell her she has tuberculosis and can’t stand spending the evening with her. Instead he goes to the Lebedev household, where he chats with reasonable moneylender Pasha (John-David Keller), evades Pasha’s wife Zinaida (Eileen T’Kaye), who is less forgiving of his large financial debt, and flirts with their daughter, Sasha (Brittany Slattery). On an evening where Anna arrives unannounced at the Lebedev’s, however, his two worlds collide disastrously.

Del Sherman’s greatest achievement in the title role is make the character seem intelligent and slightly sympathetic, but Ivanov as written mopes about in an endless sulk that fails to be intriguing. Barton brings brightness and charm to the piece, but the character finally seems written just to give something for Ivanov to react negatively to, as do most of the other roles in the play. Keller and T’Kaye are vivid and energetic in their performances, and Tom Fitzpatrick is amusing if a bit over the top as the admittedly overdramatic Count. Slattery is quite good as a young woman who’s projected her future hopes onto the hopelessly inappropriate Ivanov, and Christian Leffler is consistently funny as the ever-scheming Misha.

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Director Bart DeLorenzo starts the show with a stylish flourish that implies more creative additions to come, but overall the show is done naturalistically, leaving the play to depend on its writing, which is moribund. DeLorenzo gets strong work from the entire ensemble, but their efforts are ultimately wasted on this ponderous and pointless play. Some have described Ivanov as a work dealing with a character with clinical depression, but even if this was so, that alone does not create inherently compelling theatre.

"Ivanov" plays at the Odyssey Theatre through June 3. Tickets are available online.