CHEKHOV REINVENTED, SORT OF
The whimsical premise behind Kristen Kosmas’ brilliantly conceived and deftly executed creation There There is this: Christopher Walken, while touring Russia in a one-man show as Solyony from Chekhov’s Three Sisters, falls off a ladder and is unable to perform. When a proofreader named Karen (the dynamite Ms. Kosmas), is urged to go on in his place, she does so, but with the help of her interpreter Leo (Larissa Tokmakova, delivering a wonderfully sincere and naturalistic performance), who simultaneously translates most of what Karen says into Russian.
Mostly a monologue, the text of There There is a dazzlingly schizophrenic stew: There is scrutinizing of Solyony’s lines from Three Sisters and his explanations of his actions in that play (the same eccentric, if not insane, logic reminiscent of Poprishchin in Gogol’s Diary of a Madman); Karen’s personal outbursts and soliloquies; philosophical ruminations and historical facts concerning the practice of dueling and other matters; and Leo’s occasional protestations. The result is a breathless sixty minutes of controlled madness that explores with exquisite artistry the anguish of the eternally wounded soul.
In the beginning, Karen seems to take on Walken’s role reluctantly, having read the script only once (as she explains to us she was more or less forced into it). Indeed, a petite, middle-aged American woman, a proofreader, seems like an awkward choice to play an unhinged 19th century Russian officer (a role which incidentally would have been perfectly suited for the real Christopher Walken). But as the show develops we begin to see more and more similarities between Solyony and Karen, interior similarities that transcend the superficial: They both seem to suffer from a matching spiritual malady. Ms. Kosmas, with language at once immediate and poetic, imagines Solyony in the aftermath of the events in Three Sisters; if in Chekhov’s play he appears to be toying with losing himself, in this one he’s lost. And before long we realize that perhaps something similar can be said of Karen; maybe after all it is no accident that she’s playing this part.
Director Paul Willis does an outstanding job bringing us into Karen’s world: The barely audible but always present Russian translation following nearly every word Karen utters is like a distracting murmur in the mind. When the two actors stand on opposite sides of the “stage” and we turn our heads from one to the other like in a tennis match, we find ourselves experiencing a hint of the same anxiety and confusion the characters are feeling at that moment. The seating arrangement, with the audience in the performance space with the actors, makes all the more disconcerting those instances when Karen speaks to us with growing desperation, such as when she requests that someone give her a pear or an orange. Likewise intentionally off-putting are her requests directed at the lighting / soundboard operator. These serve to further blur the lines between stage and reality, in the same way that the line is blurred between Karen and Solyony. Samantha Tunis’s suggestive costumes and the precise lighting and sound cues work well to round out the evocative atmosphere (Environment Design by Peter Ksander).
photos by Brian Rogers and Paul Willis
co-commissioned & presented by Performance Space 122 & The Chocolate Factory
at the Chocolate Factory in Long Island City, Queens
scheduled to end on January 12, 2013
for tickets, call (718) 482-7069 or visit http://www.chocolatefactorytheater.org/home.html