Also see Suzanne's recent reviews of Dirty Blonde and Teat at Five
Director Nicholas Martin is off to a running start once again with his production of A Month in the Country (adapted by Brian Friel from Ivan Turgenev) at the Huntington Theatre through October 6th. Although not particularly startling or revelatory, the production of this pre-Chekhov "Chekhovian" play is a delight.
For starters, Alexander Dodge (Heartbreak House, Hedda Gabler) gives us another luscious set with tantalizing architectural features, intoxicating curves and a sun-kissed painted landscape. And the dress on Natalya at the curtain's rise is the perfect complement, tiers of orange sherbet flounces offering a promise of what is to come from designer Michael Krass (Betty's Summer Vacation, Dead End, Hedda Gabler).
Other veterans shoring up the comic side of the piece with aplomb include Mark Setlock (Fully Committed, The Maiden's Prayer) as a tutor with little grasp of the language and Jeremiah Kissel (Betty's Summer Vacation and numerous other productions in the area) as a self-described mediocre country doctor.
These gentlemen bring to mind Martin's other huge contribution to building a theatre community in Boston, his employment of local actors. Fully half of this cast trained here and/or has worked extensively in the region. This bodes well for Boston's continued development into a major theatre center in the spirit of Chicago, Seattle and Washington, DC.
Another reason this production is such an easy confection to swallow is the youthful spirit of Ben Fox (Aleksey) and Jessica Dickey (Vera) as they romp, all unbeknownst, through the throes of first love. They are a refreshing contrast to the more practical pairings of other characters and a barometer by which to measure the unbidden passion Natalya finds she has for Aleksey.
Several others also contribute admirably to this collection of affectionate comic portraits. Tom Bloom, Natalya's adoring husband, is as infatuated with new farm machinery as everyone else is with each other. And, of course, we have unrequited love as represented by James Joseph O'Neil in the unenviable position of an old family friend pining for the lady at the center of everything.
Several times the manic doctor grasps one of the women's wrists to clock her level of passion. This conjures up an image of director Martin with his finger on the pulse of this play. His always careful attention to the rhythm of a piece pays off, once again, in everyone having an infectious good time both on stage and off.
When all is said and done, however, the play doesn't measure up to the level of presentation. Neither O'Neil nor Van Dyck, who are both otherwise perfectly wonderful, is able to convincingly deliver an absurd soliloquy structured as a conversation with oneself. During these impossible passages one wishes for an orchestra in the pit and a conductor to magically transform the evening into A Little Night Music, which A Month in the Country resembles in subject matter and spirit, but can't measure up to in wit or resonance.
A Month in the Country at the Huntington Theatre, 264 Huntington Avenue in Boston now through October 6th. For additional information and tickets call the Huntington Box Office at 617 266-0800 or visit www.huntingtontheatre.org. Tickets also available from Ticketmaster at 617 931-ARTS.