This theater image released by The Publicity Office shows Ethan Hawke, left, and Joely Richardson in a scene from “Ivanov,” performing off-Broadway at Classic Stage Company in New York. (AP Photo/The Publicity Office; Joan Marcus)
NEW YORK (AP) — Anton Chekhov’s early drama “Ivanov” centers on a very unhappy, heavily indebted Russian landowner in the 1880s. The drama is written unevenly, with themes that are more smoothly handled in his later plays, yet contains elements of comedy and tragedy that are resolutely Chekhovian.
While the revival that opened Sunday night at Classic Stage Company has its ups and downs, it’s enlivened by some moving performances and a direct translation from the Russian by Carol Rocamore. Under Austin Pendleton’s relaxed direction, some scenes languish and go nowhere, while others have successfully humorous or fiery moments.
It’s draining to watch someone who’s not only depressed, but also angry and depressed about being depressed. Ethan Hawke does a heroic job of being both appealing and insufferable as Ivanov, an educated, formerly successful man in his mid-30s. He mentally crashed and burned a year ago, and remains unable to understand or articulate his misery.
When not frowning and crying out to be left alone, Hawke is extremely energetic with Ivanov’s despair. He wrings all the self-aware irony that Chekhov must have intended from lines such as, “Doctor, you don’t like me and you don’t hide it. That does you credit.” He’s particularly effective in the third act, when he stomps up the aisle into the audience and delivers a rousing speech of self-loathing and misery.
Of course, by then the audience is totally fed up with Ivanov, which is Chekhov’s intent: he’s thoroughly peevish, weak and selfish. For emphasis, at the beginning his unsympathetic steward, Borkin, (a vigorous Glenn Fitzgerald), deems him “a neurotic and a crybaby.”
Pendleton also steps in to portray wealthy landowner Lebedev, while the intended actor recovers from an injury, and his is one of the quirkiest performances among the cast of 11. As Ivanov’s major creditor, Lebedev is a henpecked errand-boy of a husband, whom Pendleton renders genially. His stingy, shrewish wife Zinaida, (a fretful enactment by Roberta Maxwell, ) grasps the purse-strings tightly, blowing out candles to save money.
Juliet Rylance is outstanding in her delicate portrayal of Sasha, the Lebedevs’ lovestruck daughter. Rylance glows with such earnest and pure adoration that Sasha’s blind determination to see the best in Ivanov is both exasperating and heartbreaking. Joely Richardson projects dignified despair as Ivanov’s consumptive, unloved Jewish wife, Anna, left home alone while Ivanov continually flirts with Sasha.
George Morfogen is restrained, yet wonderfully comical as Count Shabelsky. Bursts of much-needed energy are provided by Fitzgerald, crude and boorish as mercenary, scheming Borkin. Jonathan Marc Sherman veers between petulance and outrage as Lvov, Anna’s devoted doctor, who persistently and ineffectually hectors Ivanov.
Beautifully detailed period costumes brighten the simply-presented interiors and exteriors of two Russian country estates, anchored by Santo Loquasto’s masterfully lit, majestic, bookcase-backed set.
Despite the uneven nature of some scenes, Pendleton and his talented cast ably convey the boredom of rural life and the random effects of depression on everyone around the victim, while illuminating the typically Chekhovian mix of humor and pathos.