Monday, November 21, 2016

"Three Days in the Country" - Two and a Half Hours of Theatrical Perfection

Leo Marks as Ratikin and Nike Dukas as Natalya Credit: Rocky Raco

In the first sentence in the program book of his write up about Kenetic Theatre Company’s latest production, producing artistic director, Andrew Paul, admits that he never liked the Russian playwright, Ivan Turgenev’s "A Month in the Country." He goes on to say he found it old-fashioned, over-written and lacking in dramatic tension. He could also have said that the original four hour run time is probably enough to give theater goers the bucolic version of mal de mer.

All that changed last summer when he caught on a visit to London an adaptation of Turgenev’s work by Patrick Marber retitled "Three Days in the Country"  and came away smitten. Pittsburgh audiences can be thankful for his change of heart because his decision to mount the work, now getting its U.S. premier,  is a perfect storm of great acting, superb writing, stunning costumes by Kim Brown), a non-instrusive minimalist set that encourages a focus on the actors (by Narelle Sissons) and some solid direction by Paul.

Voila! It’s one of the most perfect theatrical experiences to come down the pike in quite a while.

Marber’s pared his script down to a workable two and a half hour time frame, which includes a 15 minute intermission. Even that might be a bit of a stretch for some, but considering the playwright’s lively plot, wit-drenched dialogue, comic flourishes and emotion-packed core time flows by as pleasantly and imperceptibly as a summer boat outing on the Volga.

A play with thirteen characters with lengthy Russian names might seem a bit of challenge to follow. Surprisingly, all of the cast appears scattered about (and above) the stage when the lights go up. Nothing like simultaneously meeting 13 perfect strangers, but things soon get sorted out to a manageable, comprehensible mix.

The play’s major motif is romance (physical, platonic, even mercenary and self-serving). And sexual attraction. The catalyst for much of the fired up libidos is a handsome, tall tutor named Belyaev (Adam Haas Hunter), hired to mentor the young son, Kolya (Will Sendera) of a prosperous landholder, Arkady (David Whalen), whose property is located several days drive from Moscow.

Adam Haas Hunter as Belyaev, Will Sendera as Kolya and Nike Dukas as Natalya
Credit: Rocky Raco


Three of the women on the estate, including the landowner’s wife, Natalya (Nike Dukas) are drawn to the young lothario like moths to the flame. This makes for a potentially combustible scenario, especially when you throw in a strong platonic attraction for the mistress of the house by the landowner’s friend, Rakitin (Leo Marks).

With story line reverberations of Moliere’s "The Miser," there’s even the contrivance of an arranged marriage between a dithering, old, but wealthy neighbor Bolshintsov (Larry John Meyers) and the landlord’s fetching, young ward, Vera (Katie Wieland).

There’s even more amorous intrigue in the mix in the form of a hilarious courtship scene that opens Act Two. This most thrilling comic jewel takes place in a hilarious tete-a-tete between Shpigelsky, a country doctor (Sam Tsoutsouvas), and Lizaveta (Helena Ruoti).

Not yet finished with further complicating the multitude of affairs of the heart, Marber, introduces us to the servant, Matvey (Andrew William Miller), recently jilted by Katya, an estate maidservant (Erika Strasburg), who is recently smitten by Belyaev.

That still leaves two characters unaccounted for, personages above the fray of amorous longing who still manage to add delightful dialogue into this mish-mash of lust and romance. They include Anna, Arkady’s mother (Susie McGregor-Laine), and Schaaf, a German tutor (David Crawford).

If all this seems a bit much to plow through, keep in mind everything unfolds in brilliant fashion in two and half hours of theatrical bliss. A real ensemble work, it would be hard to point to just a few of the actors deserving of kudos. Each one merits  a great round of applause for their work in a play that blind-sided me from the depths of obscurity with its intelligence, literary merit and considerable humor.

"Three Days in the Country," a production of the Kenetic Theatre Company, is at the New Hazlett Theater on Pittsburgh’s North Side. Through December 4. For tickets, visit website newhazletttheater.org.


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