Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires
Regional Reviews by Fred Sokol
A Month in the Country
Natalya (Jessica Collins) will soon turn 30 and is tired of her land-owning husband Arkady Islaev (Louis Cancelmi) and life on the country estate. Mikhail Rakitin (Jeremy Strong) is a pensive friend who obviously has high regard for Natalya and hopes she feels the same about him. Natalya, however, has eyes for the younger, sinewy Alexei Belyaev (Julian Cihi), who happens to tutor young Kolya (Parker Bell-Devaney), son of Arkady and Natalya. Natalya's ward or foster daughter Vera (Charlotte Bydwell), who happens to be fair, spirited, and blonde, also has something going on with Alexei. Natalya thinks it would be a good idea if Vera married Afanasy Bolshintsov (Paul Anthony McGrane), an older neighbor who is worn out and, for the most part, insecure and/or frustrated. Natalya feels she is running out of precious time since she is approaching what must have been thought of as very late youth. Mikhail loves Natalya but the handwriting on unseen figurative walls is all too clear to him. As Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. mused, "So it goes."
This production features an extended thrust stage, wooden chairs and tables ... and little else. Takeshi Kata, designing, has clearly followed instructions to keep it to a minimum. When actors are not speaking, they sit on either side of the stage. Everyone in the theater watches and the dialogue continues and continues. Have faith: much of it is intriguing!
Again, a caution: those awaiting a dramatic hook, startling development, and a galvanic conclusion will be disappointed. Instead, this is a story focusing upon people (dressed for the mid-nineteenth century by Susan Hilferty) who speak as if they are living a century and a half later and ardently hope to find: love, significant others ... meaning in life. Sound familiar?
It all has the feel of daily life and, frankly, this can become mundane and flat. Natalya, though, is struggling and desperate. At one point she says, "Everybody's afraid of ... I'm in love for the first time." Later, Alexei tells her, "I love you like a sister." This does not meet Natalya's fervent wish.
The like or love triangle within this play involves Natalya who seeks Alexei; but Mikhail wants her. Why, then, isn't this a much shorter minute play which concludes with a smacking resolution? Turgenev is attempting to dive into his characters' psyches and souls and portray people caught in the very complex process of the pursuit of happiness. This cannot happen swiftly. A Month in the Country requires exposition and then, really, a significant period of time as the characters come and go and the playwright, inch by inch, moves along with psychological probe and potential growthor not.
For the most part, this is fine, contemplative theater. It is long. The late scene which centers upon the physician Ignaty Shpigelsky (Sean Cullen) is annoying and distracting. This is just too, too much.
Williamstown Theatre Festival, one supposes, has taken a risk with the show by removing some audience seats and presenting a play without overt action. The result is introspective theater. Live stage performance which has an inward trajectory? The answer, in this case, is affirmative.
Williamstown Theatre Festival, on its main stage in Williamstown, Massachusetts, presents A Month in the Country, continuing through August 19th. For tickets visit wtfestival.org or call (413) 597-3400.
- Fred Sokol