Man in a Case
The first adaptation, entitled Man in a Case, finds two Russian hunters (in red flannel) telling tales. Baryshnikov enters as Belikov, a teacher of Greek very much bound by rules and not all that in touch with the outside world. He is in love with a Ukrainian woman (actress Tymberly Canale). He is an introvert and she the opposite. This is not a relationship destined for success.
After an hour, the production shifts to About Love, which features Baryshnikov in a more pro-active and verbal role. His voice is heard, at first, through recording and then is very much live. This time, a man (Baryshnikov) once again wishes to become involved with a woman (Canale). She is married to someone else. For a moment, there might be a hint of optimism since they seem to actually have feelings for one another. Physically, they walk and one senses they might very well dance. Some will call this a dance. The promise remains unfulfilled as neither is brave. About Love grants Baryshnikov room to sculpt a more complex man, one with some heart.
Big Dance Theater brings us a multi-media evening, with video, imagery, sound and movement all contributing to arresting performance. Those who will observe are filing in and locating their seats while actors remain at what some might assume to be a rehearsal table, stage right. Soon, performers speak into microphones. Curtains will part and projections come into view. All the elements of theater, sooner or later, are actualized. One feels part of a developmental process.
The production is specific, detailed, and well rehearsed. Baryshnikov, Canale, Jess Barbagallo, Chris Giarmo and Aaron Mattocks and all excellent. They portray Chekhov characters who are: unhappy, searching, but real. Baryshnikov plays people who seek love. The individuals want more and probably hope against hope that they are not doomed. They wish to solve problems but, in the case of Baryshnikov's roles, these men are estranged. Communication cannot be achieved.
Baryshnikov, in recent interviews, has wisely and correctly noted that Man in a Case is not a dance piece. Still, his fluidity and lyricism is something special. Say this: the man has exquisite grace when he moves across the stage and approaches the woman during About Love.
Annie-B Parson, Paul Lazar, and creative team take glum situations and, utilizing multi-dimensional art forms, create life and the subsequent theater transfixes. Peter Ksander designs the set, Jennifer Tipton lights the show, Tei Blow provides sound, and Jeff Larson is video designer. Oana Botez costumes the actors.
The two "leading" Chekhov men are solitary and it is not easy to conjure sympathy for them. Yet, even if we do not know them, we somehow care about them. The writer's prose evolves on stage. Annie-B Parson and Paul Lazar and company are ever inventive and imaginative.
Not every theatergoer will find Man in a Case enjoyable. Those expecting a familiar dramatic formula will not find it here. In order to appreciate, one should arrive with an open mind. Then, this detailed and complex evening of unusual theater will be appreciated. Its interface of human interaction with media and sound is absolutely distinctive.
Man in a Case continues at Hartford Stage through March 24th. For tickets, visit www.hartfordstage.org or call (860) 527-5151.
- Fred Sokol