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The Moon in Vain

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

What better way to soothe the summer heat than with the chill of turn-of-the-century Russia? If you've been trying and failing, worry not. The Moon In Vain - Part I: Visitation, the new play currently at Dixon Place, will help you make sure your Seagull craving does not go unsatisfied.

If you haven't seen or read Anton Chekhov's 1895 play, don't worry, the chronicles of Madame Arkadina and her son Treplev won't be lost on you. Authors Lee Gundersheimer and Rae C. Wright have structured the play as Madame Arkadina's return to the stage on the first anniversary of her son's death, allowing the story of The Seagull to be told via flashbacks and memories and ensure you will not be lost for a moment.

Ms. Wright herself plays Arkadina, and shines as brilliantly as one has every right to expect a great star should. She projects an aura of warmth, confidence, and humor that seems to wrap the audience up and draw them in, both figuratively and literally. (Yes, limited audience participation is required). Whether conveying her hopes for a bright future or encountering the horrors of a dimmer past, Ms. Wright gives a powerful performance from beginning to end.

Ethan Cohen portrays Treplev, and if he doesn't match Wright every step of the way, he does play well off her and gets in a few good moments of his own. Equally as important are the simple but very effective sets of SeoHee Hong, Diane D. Fairchild's subversive lighting design, and the heartbreakingly beautiful live music played by Beth-Anne Arentsen and Linae Harris.

Mr. Gundersheimer's direction itself frequently seems as important as another character in the play. He does some marvelous work with the actors' entrances and exits, and implements a number of other staging ideas far too clever to give away here. Though The Moon In Vain never successfully bodies the Russia of a hundred years ago, Mr. Gundersheimer's work is otherwise outstanding.

Don't let your familiarity (or lack thereof) with The Seagull prevent you from considering this interpretation of what might have happened afterward. The strong work of Ms. Wright and Mr. Gundersheimer prevent, every step of the way, a trip to The Moon in Vain from being at all in vain.

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The Mercy Project and Dixon Place
The Moon in Vain - Part I: Visitation
by Lee Gundersheimer and Rae C. Wright
Dixon Place, 309 East 26th Street
Through August 30
Reservations: (212) 532-1546