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The Chekhov Dreams

nytheatre.com review by Case Aiken
October 13, 2012

The concept of novelty is perhaps over emphasized in the modern culture, in part because our creative works are often preserved for later generations to see such as movies or television, while the ability to reference back to those works increases as the databases of the internet become increasingly comprehensive.  It was once assumed that a story about Superman’s pal Jimmy Olson transforming into a werewolf could be redrawn seven years later and no one would notice, but if that were attempted in today’s world, all the forces of the interwebs would rise up and voice their outrage. People forget that great works of our culture are often built on taking concepts and styles and showing off a mastery of them in writings that are both referential while being compelling on their own.  The Aeneid is such a work, as is The Metamorphoses.  I note this to preface my description of The Chekhov Dreams, a show by John McKinney showing at The Jewel Box Theater, which I really enjoyed but can’t say that I found particularly original.  This is a play with ghosts or perhaps hallucinations haunting aspiring writer, Jeremy (Jake Robards), as he finds himself drawn to his acting scene partner and deals with the death of his fiancé. I feel like I’ve seen shows with this basic premise a hundred times already, but that’s not a bad thing because there’s more going on here than just that basic synopsis.

The inclusion of Anton Chekhov as a specter haunting Jeremy and the title of the play, for that matter, are not so subtle hints at the deeper references. The play is simultaneously a love letter and a critique of Chekhov’s plays, specifically The Seagull.  It’s a smart discussion of an important figure in the history of theater, done with overt points in the aforementioned phantasmal Anton figure, as well as in the actual discussion of theater and scene-work of Jeremy and his scene partner turned object of affection, Chrissy (Sutton Crawford). The notes in the program describes the show as an attempt to “scream to the heavens about how ridiculous it is to scream to the heavens!” which is actually pretty apt. I’ve seen people talk to ghosts of their dead fiancés enough times, but this is one that does so with a purpose.  It’s not just venting about how hard it was to get over loss or how loneliness can overtake you so powerfully that no one can pull you out of it.  This is a strong piece, a bit long winded maybe (albeit fittingly), that understands the tropes it utilizes to make a larger point or at least to engender discussion.

I should also note that this show would not work without excellent performances by the cast. Michael Gnat is the easy stand out as Anton Chekhov due to the complete absurdity of the role, but Jake Robards’s  Jeremy is a great emotional center that holds the show together.  Sutton Crawford and Carmit Levite’ both do a fine job representing Jeremy’s present and his past respectively and Matt Faucher does an admirable job as the abrasive Eddie, who has a point despite his personality flaws.  Also of note is that the Jewel Box Theater is a small space and not particularly great for extensive scenic work (speaking from experience), but Jennifer Varbalow does a fantastic job dressing it.

I left having really enjoyed The Chekhov Dreams.  Smart subtext, good performances, and a solid execution make this a worthwhile show to go see. I note that this has been developed in past workshops and readings and I would like to encourage further productions as it is definitely worth it.