Sunday, May 23, 2010

For the Trees


The Forest

Written by Alexander Ostrovsky

Translated by Kathleen Tolan

Directed by Brian Kulick

Starring Dianne Wiest, John Douglas Thompson, Adam Driver, Quincy Dunn-Baker, Herb Foster, Lisa Joyce, Lizbeth MacKay, George Morfogen, John Christopher Jones, Tony Torn

Performances through May 30, 2010

Classic Stage Company, 136 East 13th Street

Alexander Ostrovsky, a master 19th century Russian playwright, is best known for his stirring melodrama The Storm,Kata Kabanova. We rarely encounter Ostrovsky's plays themselves, so having The Forest, his melancholic comedy, onstage in a new, conversational adaptation/translation by Kathleen Tolan, is a revelation of sorts, however uneven the work itself is transformed by Leos Janacek into the operatic masterpiece

The Forest takes place on the large estate of Raisa Pavlovna, a 50ish widow with eyes for the much younger Bulanov, who lives on the estate thanks to Raisa herself, even though she has made overtures that he should be betrothed to her niece Aksyusha, who’s in love instead with Pyoter, son of nearby landowner Vosmibratov, who is planning to purchase some of Raisa's land. Whew—and amidst all this, returning to the estate is Raisa's long-gone nephew Gennady, a traveling actor who arrives pretending he’s a decorated retired soldier: he has brought another actor, Arkady, as his "valet."

Ostrovsky sketches these people with gentle humor and humaneness, even if his play, at least in Brian Kulick’s staging, is uncomfortably reminiscent of Shakespeare (especially in the comic interludes featuring Gennady, Arkady and Raisa’s servants) and Chekhov, whose indomitable spirit hovers over Ostrovsky’s familiar characters throughout.

If the satirical The Forest only intermittently rises above its being dated with touches of welcome humor, don’t blame designer Santo Loquasto, on whose impressively austere set—comprising a staircase and wooden planks, all painted green and wittily arrayed as Raisa’s estate—a solid cast does the author proud. There are two standouts: John Douglas Thompson, who plays a humorously bellowing Gennady; and Dianne Wiest, a veteran of at this kind of role, whose Raisa lords it over everyone with the commanding actress’s intelligence and keen comic timing.

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