Chekhov on the Wing
nytheatre.com review by Stephen Graybill
August 15, 2004
Chekhov on the Wing is a one-man musical theatre piece, conceived and compiled by Dayle Vander Sande (who also performs it) and Vicki Hirsch (who directs). It consists of the English-language soliloquy opera A Water Bird Talk (music by Dominick Argento, based on Chekhov's short play The Harmfulness of Tobacco) on one side of the stage, and a reading of Chekhov’s private letters and writings on the other—both performed by the same man… at separate times, of course.
According to their pamphlet, by alternating between the two characters and following the two arcs of the men, we will infer a sort of "parallel universe" between Chekhov the man and a character of Chekhov’s design. This is, perhaps, too daunting an artistic quest for Fish ‘n Birds Productions, I think. In a purely academic sense they might have accomplished their goal; but as an audience member, I completely missed whatever they were trying to accomplish—even though I had prepared myself with their breakdown before-hand.
Vander Sande certainly has a beautiful voice. However, his ability as an actor is lacking. He seemed to be talking at me, rather than including me in his pointless rants. Therefore I was unable to follow either character's journey—or even think about comparing them, as they recommend in their reading. Hirsch's direction provides scant help. Vander Sande’s movements do not aid in the presentation of the material, and further confuse his characters' motivations and intentions.
But the material itself also presents problems. In music, dissonance is a clashing or unresolved musical interval or chord; simply put, an uncomfortable moment within the song. That is the closest possible idea of a musical term that I can put into words to describe what I heard in Argento's work. However, this was not a moment, but a complete experience of dissonance so grand that I was incapable of following the story and whatever larger artistic idea, or arc, may have been intended.
Chekhov’s literary genius does not come from his letters, wherein he spews out personal rantings about things that don’t correlate, as we all do in personal journals. These writings don't work well in a theatrical context.
This play is HIGHLY intellectual and very smart in its compilation. However, I believe Vander Sande and Hirsch would have been more successful publishing an academic analysis of both works and comparing them, rather than performing a play.