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STAGE REVIEW : Chekhov Tribute Lacks the Master's Spirit

November 27, 1987|DAN SULLIVAN | Times Theater Critic

A couple of seasons ago the Acting Company commissioned David Mamet, Irene Fornes, John Guare, etc., to write an evening of short plays based on Chekhov stories.

Or rather, stimulated by Chekhov stories. The authors were encouraged to tell the tale as they would have told it, or to tell another. The results were as individual as the writers involved, yet constituted a wonderful tribute to the master.

"Razkazy," at the Ensemble Studio Theatre, does him much less credit. It is a Story Theater-ish adaptation by Stephen Sachs of five early Chekhov sketches--"In the Cemetery," "An Inadvertence," "Grief," "A Dead Body" and "Kashtanka." Some are over before they begin; some seem actually quite vapid. Life is sad. Old maids are funny.

The problem is one of tone. The words here are Chekhov's, but the spirit is not. Even when he's telling a tall story, Chekhov never calls attention to how cleverly he's telling it. He never preens. He never shows off. The tale is the thing.

By Dan Sullivan
Los Angeles Times Friday December 11, 1987 Home Edition Calendar Part 6 Page 4 Column 6 Entertainment Desk 1 inches; 29 words Type of Material: Correction
FOR THE RECORD: Contrary to my review in Calendar Nov. 27, Sam Shamshak wasn't a member of the company performing "Razkazy" at the Ensemble Studio Theater. Shamshak left the show a few days before it opened.
--Dan Sullivan

In "Razkazy"--Sachs directed it as well--the presentation is the thing. The actors work in a circus ring, with homemade costumes. (I hope that's the idea of those costumes.) When a door is supposed to open, they mime it: creak, creak. When a cat figures in the action, an actor will become a cat-- meow, meow.

Bluntly, this is no longer a very clever way to stage anything. For 20 years, every college theater department in the country has had its kids rolling around the floor pretending to be animals. Still, actors of superb physicality might actually make us see the door and the cat, in which case we could enter the world of the story.

What we see here is half-dozen actors with no special physical skills enjoying the stretch of mime and Story Theater narration. That's fine for a workshop project in a town where most actors work from the waist up. But there is little reward here for the viewer, who could be at home reading Chekhov.

The actors are, in alphabetical order, Pat Brown, Jacque Lynn Colton, Jeff Doucette, John Durbin, Sachs, Sam Shamshak and Suzanne Stone. David Kaplan designed the set, with lighting by J. Kent Inasy. Individual placards for each play--not just a big one saying "Razkazy"--would have been nice.

"Razkazy" plays in repertory with the Ensemble's piece about the Japanese internment camps, "Tachinoki," though Dec. 20.

Performances are at 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, with Sunday matinees at 3. Tickets are $10-$15. 1089 N. Oxford Ave. (213) 466-2916.

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