Writer: Anton Chekhov
Adaptor: Laura Wickens
Director: Jessica Burr
Reviewer: Carrie Lee O’Dell
In 1878, nearly twenty years before he wrote The Seagull, Anton Chekhov wrote his first full-length play, a sprawling work of over 200 pages that is alternately referred to as Fatherlessness, A Play Without a Title, or Platonov. The actress for whom it was written rejected the play and it wasn’t published until 1923. Blessed Unrest presents a dramatically trimmed version of this work, adapted and translated by Laura Wickens and directed by Jessica Burr at the New Ohio Theatre.
The characters of Platonov and their individual problems will feel familiar to audiences who are familiar with Chekhov’s work. The action centers on a group of people in a provincial Russian town and the drama that they create to fill their lives. Anna (Irina Abraham) is a young widow who lives on her late husband’s estate with her stepson Sergei (Ashley N. Hildreth), his wife Sofya (Becca Schneider), and their geriatric servant Kopecka (Taylor Valentine). During the course of the play, they are visited by their neighbor Porfiry (Javon Q. Minter), the town doctor Nikolai (Taylor Valentine), Nikolai’s sister Sasha (Ashley N. Hildreth) and Sasha’s husband Platonov (Darrell Stokes), who is a schoolteacher. The group’s festivities (which seem to consist mostly of downing vodka and flirting over a chess game) are interrupted by Platonov’s former student Mariya (Javon Q. Minter), who is also Nikolai’s love interest, and by Osip (Becca Schneider), an outlaw without a clear connection to any of the other characters. With the exception of Sergei and Osip, all the men are infatuated with Anna. Mariya seeks legal action against Platonov as retribution for his physical advances on her while Anna, Sofya, and Sasha vie for his affection. Osip is openly hostile to Platonov. Sergei plans to have Porfiry buy his father’s estate so that his family can remain on the property; Porfiry has other plans. The characters spend a hot summer’s day and night wandering the woods on the estate, swapping jokes and anecdotes, kisses and charged words. In the end Platonov’s dalliances prove to be his downfall and the play ends with his demise.
Although Platonov contains some timely elements that merit discussion—Platonov’s sexual ethics are particularly relevant in light of the #metoo movement, while issues of economic collapse and gun violence echo our current news cycle. Laura Wickens has trimmed Chekhov’s four-hour play down to a lean ninety minutes aided by Jessica Burr’s direction, which knits the scenes together to make the action cohesive. Performances are excellent, especially from Javon Q. Minter, Becca Schneider, Taylor Valentine, and Ashley N. Hildreth, all of whom are double-cast and play across the gender spectrum. The cross-gender casting is aided by Sarah Thea’s costume design.
All of this should add up to a stellar production, but despite the best efforts of everyone involved, it falls short. Ultimately, there’s a reason that Platonov isn’t as widely produced as later Chekhov like Three Sisters and Uncle Vanya—it’s simply not as good. Perhaps it isn’t entirely fair to measure this play against Chekhov’s other work, but it’s difficult not to compare the muddled action with Three Sisters, in which motivations are clearer and passions simmer over years rather than hours. One can’t help but wonder—why this play when there is so much excellent work by the same author that touches on many of the same themes? The creative team behind Blessed Unrest’s Platonov should be commended for their work on this production, though all but the most die-hard Chekhov fans will likely find it exhausting.
Runs until 11 March 2018 | Image: Maria Baranova