Elizaveta Boyarskaya and Evgeny Mironov in Ivanov, Photo by Sergei Petrov

By Holli Harms

Within us is a mind that is both creative and destructive. It needs to be handled, taken care of. It needs its distractions.

Your mind needs to see this production. Stop reading this review right now and click HERE to get a ticket before it’s too late.

Russia’s State Theatre of Nations, as part of the Cherry Orchard Festival, production of Chekhov’s Ivanov, now playing in limited run at City Center’s MainStage theatre, is one of those productions you will hear about for years to come and those who were there will liken it to the Henry V St. Crispian’s speech, “Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot, But he’ll remember, with advantages, What feats he did that day.” This production is one of those rare pieces of theatre you hope for. It is a spectacle of mind and sight. A comedy, a drama, a slapstick mess, a painful reminder of the vitality of life and of our lack of importance within it.

The play opens with Nikolai Ivanov at his home. His wife Anna is very sick. He is getting ready to leave for the evening. He can no longer sit with his wife and watch her die and he cannot afford the trip to the country her doctor insists will help in slowing her death, so he leaves her.  He knows that he is being heartless wanting to be away from his dying wife night after night, but he cannot help it, he’s depressed and being in her presence only exasperates those feelings. So he steps away from the misery. He leaves their home and goes to the house of his friend Pavel Lebedeva. Pavel’s wife Zinaida Lebedeva, is the person Nikolai Ivanov owes money to. His daughter, Sasha, the person who believes she is in love with Nikolai. At Pavel’s home there is a party going on. A birthday party for Sasha. Everyone there is dancing and moving and drinking and laughing and Nikolai watches all of this from the corners of his conscience mind, attempting to dance and laugh, but the lie is too much for him. Watching them it appears to Nikolai that they have bought into the lie of the good life. Keep moving so you won’t notice the emptiness in your gut.

Characters complain of their boredom, say they are tired, depressed, unhappy. They over drink, over eat, over dance. They push themselves to “fun,” singing old familiar tunes to thwart the silence from taking over. Silence brings no solace, noise lifts no hearts. This beautiful production is a slice of life, all of our lives, as we are all trying with great effort to dance away that feeling in our gut.

The entire cast, headed by the luminous and fire breathing Evgeny Mironov as Nikolai Ivanov, Chulpan Khamatova as his wife Anna, and Elizavetta Boyarskaya as Sasha are all brilliant. They tear up the stage with their voices, their bodies – clawing at the set and one another till their hands and souls are shredded.

The entire evening, a perfect night at the theatre. The three hours flew by on the wings of some wild, ancient creature leaving me wanting more from this wonderful ride.

The director, Timofey Kulyabin, worked on the play a year prior to casting and rehearsals.

There are two Ivanov scripts by Anton Chekov. The original written in ten days premiered at the very theatre that the State Theatre of Nations now occupies, and another version written later where Checkhov added a fourth act. The first of the Ivanov’s was a comedy. The “newer” version, with the fourth act, a drama. Timofey Kulyabin combined the two into one play. Never losing the integrity of either version, but making it a much more balanced piece and much more contemporary. Once he was satisfied with this “new” Ivanov he began the task of casting the play, as the State Theatre of Nations is unlike many Russian theatres in that they have no set company. Each production must first find a director and then the cast. The cast spent three months rehearsing and discussing, going to Chekhov’s home where he wrote Ivanov and working together to create this extraordinary production.

Ivanov was the first of Chekhov’s plays to be produced. His themes being: The life of the privileged and the boredom that they feel in it. The narcissism of the bored. The misery of life and the study on that misery.

With Chekhov the journey of the play is the exploration of the  inner demons of the characters. And with Ivanov we explore right along with them, never finding answers, just more questions and always on a quest to rescue ourselves from ourselves. Nikolai Ivanov is in the last stages of depression. However, he remains active in his life, casting his lines out in an attempt to catch something that will make him feel that he is in a good place, that he has purpose and dare I say, a happiness he can call his own.

June 14-17 at New York City Center (131 W. 55th Street), as part of the VI Cherry Orchard Festival of the Arts.

Tickets for the performances are priced at $45. – $155. and are available at the New York City Center Box Office (131 W 55th St) in person or by calling CityTix® 212.581.1212, by visiting http://www.nycitycenter.org/tickets or by visiting Cherry Orchard Festival. Student discounts are available at the box office with valid ID. For group sales, please contact the Cherry Orchard Festival Foundation directly 800.349.0021 or by emailing [email protected]

Ivanov written by Anton Chekhov, directed by Timofey Kulyabin

With: Evgeny Mironov, Chulpan Khamatova, Elizaveta Boyarskaya, Igor Gordin, Viktor Verzhbitsky, Dmitriy Serdyuk, Alexander Novin, Natalya Pavlenkova, Tatyana Shankina, Marianna Schults, Aleksey Kalinin, Olga Lapshina, Irina Gordina, Andrey Andreev, Ilya Orshanskiy, Andrey Andreev

Creative Team: Directed by Timofey Kulyabin, Set and Costumes Designer: Oleg Golovko, Lighting Designer Denis Solntsev, Dramaturg Roman Dolzhanskiy, Stage Managers: Anastasia Galitsina and Evgenia Antonyuk

Theater and Box Office 131 W 55th St (between Sixth and Seventh avenues) New York, NY 10019

Performed in Russian with English supertitles. Running time 3 hours with one intermission.