Review: CSC's new 'A Month in the Country' lacks nuance

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

NEW YORK (AP) — Careless actions can have unexpected consequences, as demonstrated in the great 19th-century Russian playwright Ivan Turgenev's classic "A Month in the Country." The comedy of manners, about all kinds of love among Russian aristocrats and their employees on a country estate, resonates with tragic undertones as realism and romanticism battle it out.

There are touching moments and classy performances in Classic Stage Company's greatly condensed production, which opened Thursday night off-Broadway at their intimate downtown space.

John Christopher Jones' ambitious translation has reduced the play from five hours to two, which, combined with Erica Schmidt's uneven direction, creates a near-farcical pace that necessarily eclipses some complex psychological nuances and fluidity of language.

Galloping through the plot: a wealthy, bored, married woman, secretly adored by her male best friend, discovers a passion for her young female ward's youthful tutor, who is also secretly adored by the ward. Schemes and complications ensue, and heartbreak is definitely in the cards.

Taylor Schilling, of "Orange is the New Black," makes her New York stage debut, portraying the married Natalya with a compelling fierceness that sometimes lacks subtlety. Natalya should elicit sympathy as a touchingly humorous and pitiably desperate figure, yet Schilling's willful manner and often inscrutable expression preclude much audience empathy.

Peter Dinklage, best known for "Game of Thrones," is mature and expressive as Natalya's love-struck friend, Rakitin. His haunted face provides a moving contrast to the polite generalities his resentful character articulates, and he radiates heroic despair when Natalya obliviously asks him to aid her pursuit of the young Aleksey.

Anthony Edwards plays Arkady, Natalya's sensible older husband, with credible decency. Annabella Sciorra shines as Lizaveta, Arkady's spinster sister. Her comical courtship scene with the talkative, two-faced Doctor Shpigelsky (Thomas Jay Ryan, perfectly smug and cynical), is masterfully handled by both, as he presents a notably underwhelming yet realistic marriage proposal — "Feed me well and I won't be mean."

As Aleksey, Mike Faist has a surprisingly understated presence, considering Schilling's animal lust for him. At least the infatuation of Natalya's ward, Vera, (given innocent vitality by Megan West), is understandable, since she's close to his age. The servants (merrily portrayed by James Joseph O'Neil and Elizabeth Ramos) definitely have the most fun, their healthy romance and natural emotions unbound by the repressions of the unhappy upper class.

In the end, Natalya's selfish desires destroy her once-pleasant household, and very few of the characters seem destined for happiness. CSC's production may be lacking in delicate shadings, but it's an attractive presentation containing worthy theatrical nuggets.