nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
June 1, 2009
Nick is a new adaptation of Anton Chekhov's Ivanov, written by Laura Wickens and directed by Jessica Burr for the smart and energetic young company Blessed Unrest. Wickens herself plays Anna (nee Sarah), the Jewish wife of the title character; he—Nick Ivanov—is a bit of a layabout and a fortune hunter to boot. During the first act, the play springs to life most in the scenes when Wickens is on stage—she's got real empathy for Anna, revealing her to more than a mere prototype of many of Chekhov's women who are drab and annoying in the shadow of the brooding, sexy man they love but cannot completely have. There are moments when Burr projects Wickens's image on a makeshift screen (made from a piece of white cloth and hung on the rear wall of the stage; there's a live video feed throughout the show), and the effect is absolutely riveting: Wickens gets the conflicted nature of this woman who gave up everything for love, and as in classic silent film her emotions are telegraphed to us in these closeups.
Playing out around Wickens's Anna, though, is a mass of talk and noise and misdirected energy that represents the chaotic universe that Nick has managed to create for himself. Though he's clearly not a nice guy, Nick is a likable anti-hero in the hands of Darrell Stokes, and as he abuses his friends and relatives (and cheats on his wife), we somehow find ourselves pulling for him in spite of ourselves. Late in Nick, his uselessness becomes tantamount, which is really interesting; in the final scenes I felt a relevance in the piece that I had missed previously, as it became clear that what Nick does to Anna and others is not that different from what a whole lot of entrepreneurs in, say, the finance industry, did to unsuspecting and willing investors during the past decade or so.
What's problematic in Wickens and Burr's piece for me is that it seems to be trying to bridge two very different eras—the one Ivanov is set in (late 1890s in Russia), and the one we live in now (i.e., 21st century America). As I just noted, the reason why it might make sense to transpose this play to the present-day ultimately emerges in this production, but it comes quite late and until then I found myself wondering what the artists were trying to tell me by having Nick's friends do an extended dance to the Bee Gees' Stayin' Alive when these same people seem rooted in the circumstances and ethos of Chekhov's time (talking derogatorily about Anna being a Jewess, for example). I kept wishing that the interpretation would go all one way or the other—following Wickens's lead as Anna by playing 19th century, or going full out contemporary, in the manner of the mini-skirted Sasha (Nick's young girlfriend, played by the lively Zenzele Cooper).
That said, much in Nick is striking and noteworthy. I loved Anna-Alisa Belous's fascinating, disjointed set, which represents two different households simultaneously; the Victorian primness of Anna's white furniture and tapestries seems particularly evocative. Kelly Hayes's choreography in the aforementioned Bee Gees number and elsewhere is exciting; both acts begin with the actors waltzing in shifting pairings, which is lovely to watch though I wasn't entirely sure what it signified. There's also a famous Supertramp song interpolated in the proceedings.
Among the cast, I was most impressed by Nick Micozzi's highly physicalized take on Misha, Nick's cousin, a proletarian on the rise whom we will meet in all the other famous Chekhov plays; and by Matthew Sincell's portrayal of Pavel, Nick's rich neighbor, which shows us genuine conflict under a passive exterior.
I'm not sure that Nick creates anything brand new from the framework of this lesser masterwork of Chekhov's, nor did I find out much new about the play itself. But Blessed Unrest is showcasing here some talented artists who bring energy and insight to the text and its parts, making this an interesting evening of experimentation in physical theater.