The Mint Theater Company production of Chekhov/Tolstoy: Love Stories, opened tonight at Theatre Row. Miles Malleson’s adaptations of Chekhov’s An Artist’s Story and Tolstoy’s What Men Live By are playing back-to-back. These one-acts, reflect social responsibility, loss and spirituality. In a day and age when we seem to have lost our faith, I found this evening of short plays to be comforting.
Chekhov’s An Artist’s Story follows Nicov (Alexander Sokovikov), a painter who encounters two very different women both sisters. The younger Genya (Anna Lentz), questions him about miracles and the eternal, while her sister Lidia (Brittany Anikka Liu), ridicules the artist, questioning the necessity of landscapes in a world where people are poor and hungry. She is so rigid in her thinking that the world should only exist for good deeds. Nicov finds himself falling in love with Genya and she him, but Lidia steps in and destroys his new found happiness. It is very much a picture of today world with others trying to shove their opinions down the throat of those who oppose them and don’t fight for their causes. For the first time I found Chekhov highly insightful.
Directed by Jonathan Bank the show seems a little plodding at first. It was not until Nicov and Lidia start their war on ideas, that this piece takes off, but once it does there is much to take in. The cast and the costumes by Oana Botez kept the Russian feel, but gave it a contemporary feel.
The second piece is a mystical tale of love and redemption. Tolstoy’s What Men Live By, is the story of a poor peasant couple Matryona (Katie Firth) and Simon( J. Paul Nicholas) whose lives are changed by the mysterious stranger Michael (Malik Reed) a beggar they befriend. When Michael smiles he sets fear into the wife. Only Aniuska (Vinie Burrows) understands who Michael is. At first you think Michael is death, but turns out he is an angel sent back to earth by God to find the answer to What dwells in man? What is not given to man? and What do men live by? The answers are powerful and will warm your heart, if you can open it to hear.
Jane Shaw directs this piece and though I have heard this story told in another way, the angelic words about loving our fellow man is still powerful and satisfying. This cast was perfectly suited for their roles and made this seem like Paul Sills Story Theatre. I especially like the work of Ms. Firth.
The scenic design by Roger Hanna, was a painting that scrolled up. For the first play it was a painting of a tree in the fall with it’s leaves intact and for the second show the roots. I found this very profound. The lighting by Matthew Richards add to this effect of life and death or the cycle of beginning and endings.
These play tell simplistic messages, but I left the theatre comforted.
Chekhov/Tolstoy: Love Stories: Theatre Row 410 West 42nd St. until March 14th.