Nevertheless, as the disclaimer goes, any resemblance to what is usually meant by the word “Chekhovian” in Coeurage Theatre Company’s world-premiere offering at Greenway Court Theatre is entirely coincidental. That’s because rather than an adaptation, which might be expected to blow the dust off a canonical classic for a modern audience, Alvarez has simply lifted the familiar shell of Ivanov and dropped it onto the very different chassis of what plays as a 1980s closet melodrama.
Act 1 opens on Benoît Guérin’s midcentury-modern living room set as Nicky sunbathes at his Palm Springs swimming pool. It turns out that the pool is as far as he can get from his devoted Filipina wife Anna (Sandy Velasco) without actually physically leaving the house. Even the sound of her warbling the treacly Debby Boone ballad, "You Light Up My Life," on her home karaoke machine elicits his physical revulsion.
At first Nicky’s avoidance seems to be denial over what is soon revealed as Anna’s advanced cancer. Or maybe he is merely depressed over his imminent bankruptcy and hiding from his main creditor, Zina (Emily Swallow), the miserly, loan shark wife of his best friend Pavel (Daniel Kaemon). It is only when Nicky attends the 21st birthday party for Sasha (Chris Aguila), Pavel and Zina’s gay son, that the secret torch Nicky and Sasha have been hiding finally flares into view. The consequences of that public revelation play out in Act 2 as Anna’s crushing disillusionment, Pavel’s sense of angry betrayal and Nicky’s emotional seesawing between acceptance, guilt and self-loathing.
The accepted view of Chekhov is that by successfully blending the tragic and the comic and by locating emotion between the lines rather than on top of them, he gave the world the modern drama of psychological discovery. But in Beth Lopes’ sometimes unfocussed staging (strained by a surfeit of interstitial furniture moving), emotions are pinned onto the ensemble’s sleeves and the laughs feel little more than nervous comic relief.
Jaime Barcelon, Taylor Hawthorne and Mark Jacobson make a welcome appearance as a trio of Sasha’s wisecracking gay demimonde friends, and the always intense Jeremy Lelliott injects antic energy as the tippler Misha, but too much of the vestigial Chekhovian bric-a-brac only gets in the way. The play’s depiction of Nicky and his circle (Ted Barton, Alexis Genya, Julia Silverman) as some sort of Russian high-tech diaspora in the California desert particularly seems like a stretch.
Still, Nicky has enough hints at the more personally compelling story that one suspects Alvarez wanted to tell — Michelle Stann’s suggestively camp sound design; Velasco’s poignant portrait of immigrant longing — that one wishes he’d have merely jettisoned Anton and made it an all-Boni show.
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