Baryshnikov Onstage in Santa Monica, But Not Dancing

Mikhail Baryshnikov
Mikhail Baryshnikov
Photo by Ben Gibbs

Man in a Case, a Big Dance Theatre production conceived and directed by Annie-B Parson and Paul Lazar and featuring former Russian dance super-star Mikhail Baryshnikov, dramatizes two of Anton Chekhov's short stories, layering his narratives with videography, music and dance.

The aim, presumably, is to deepen and expand the Chekhovian experience. But while the multimedia effects may be imaginative, in the end their chaotic sturm und drang creates distance and disinterest rather than the empathy the writer sought to create.

The title story begins as a conversational anecdote relayed by one Florida game hunter to others as they gather around a long table. Initially slow, the pace quickens once Baryshnikov assumes center stage as an austere schoolteacher named Belikov, a man whose severity alienates peers and pupils alike. Belikov's stern vision of life transforms after he spots Barbara (Tymberly Canale), the lively unconventional sister of a colleague (Aaron Mattocks).

Some of the arresting visuals that accompany his subsequent undoing include the layout of his claustrophobic bedsit, with its multiple flashing TVs, canopied bed and numerous locks on the door, their latching and unlatching heightened by designer Tei Blow's ominous sound. The most arresting technical accomplishment is a video sequence that has been shot from overhead and is displayed on a large screen simultaneously with the character's ascent in real time up a perilously steep staircase to confront his beloved's brother.

Not much happens in the second narrative, About Love, which depicts the relationship between a man (Baryshnikov) and his friend's bored wife (Canale). The would-be adulterers yearn for each other but ultimately go their separate ways without consummation. Most striking in this play are the video images that reflect the lovers' physical intimacy - the touching of hands, for example - and the languor of their lives. Unfortunately, languor ultimately prevails on stage.

Part of the problem is the folksy manner adopted by narrators Jesse Barbagallo and Chris Giarmo. The American flavor of their personas contrasts too sharply with the 19th century tales, and their overly casual style of delivery is not involving. Baryshnikov does fine portraying buttoned-up individuals but as an actor his is not a powerful presence. There is some pleasing choreography, but nothing dazzling. Colorfully costumed, Canale's performance is a bright distraction in what is, for all its attempted beguilements, a technically adept but less than inspiring theatrical event.

Baryshnikov Productions at the Broad Stage, 1310 11th Street, Santa Monica. Through May 10. (310) 434-3200,

Correction: An earlier version of this piece misstated the name of the sound designer.

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