A new company named Chalk Repertory, consisting largely of alums from the U.C. San Diego Theatre and Dance Department, have rolled into Hollywood with a production of Chekhov's century-old masterwork about miserable marriages, unrequited loves and stifled ambitions (in a colloquial adaptation by Susan Coyne). Here it's set quasi-atmospherically within the ornate confines of the newly and beautifully remodeled Masonic Lodge of the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. The audience sits on two sides of the elongated, rectangular stage, at the head of which is a separated playing area used for a banquet scene or, later in the play, an area depicting the woods (set and projection design by Tom Ontiveros). This means that the action floats all over the room, presenting a challenge to lighting desgners Rebecca Bonebrake and Ontiveros, who are working with only four lighting instruments in the sky, plus some floor lights, and the glow emanating from the room's grand chandeliers and some art nouveau floor lamps that punctuate the sprawling playing area. The result is a number of scenes played in murky shadows, blurring the dramatic focus of this tender, difficult play. Larissa Kokernot's staging mixes Slavic and Japanese influences, with the over-educated Prozorov family (that would be Masha, Irena, Olga and their brother, Andrei) — stranded in the provinces and yearning for a more cultured life — all played by Asian-American actors, the women sometimes dressed in silky kimonolike attire. Kokernot's laconic staging avoids the pitfalls of strained farce with a languor that allows Chekhov's innate humor to bubble out, gently, between the ruminations and glances. The biggest drawback is that the actors playing the Prozorovs careen between overplaying and underplaying so that the play's core feels both overly and underly mannered. Some of the supporting cast, however, provides a sense of what this all could be, were its potential matched by the sparks of talent on the stage: Tony Amendola's crusty/kind layabout doctor Chebutykin, for example, or Teri Reeves' vixen Natasha, who grows increasingly, viciously confident as her power accrues. Adam J. Smith's lovestruck Tuzenbach possesses an earnest and endearing clarity of purpose, while Corey Brill's schoolteacher, Kulygin, presents a soft-spoken clown, suffering the quiet of agony of watching his wife fall in love with the visiting battery commander, Vershinin (Ricardo Antonio Chavira, in a strong and generously dignified portrayal). Owiso Odera is particularly grand as the seething and often rude army captain Solyony, prone to vicious verbal outbursts followed by inevitable remorse and embarrassment. Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Masonic Lodge, 6000 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through February 22. (866) 468-3399. A Chalk Repertory production.
Sun., Feb. 1, 7:30 p.m.; Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Starts: Feb. 1. Continues through Feb. 22, 2009
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