Theater Review: Ivanov

A play by Anton Chekhov; Directed by Arthur Kogan; Cameri Theater, January 2.

Theater Masks (photo credit: INGIMAGE / ASAP)
Theater Masks
(photo credit: INGIMAGE / ASAP)
Seated in the sterile opulence of the Lebedyev’s parlor the guests sit in silence. The silence stretches.
The audience begins to titter, then to giggle... it’s a delicious moment, one of many, in Arthur Kogan’s splendid, always slyly humorous and very contemporary Ivanov.
Ivanov (Itay Tiran) is a young landowner, living on his estate in rural Russia. He’s heavily in debt, has lost all his earlier ideals and enthusiasms, and is very, very depressed.
Why wouldn’t he be? He’s educated, cultivated, sensitive and lives among clods.
He’s married to Sara (Helena Yaralova).
She’s Jewish, but converted to Christianity for love. Of course her wealthy parents have cut her off, so no financial relief there.
Sara is terminally ill with tuberculosis. Her physician is Dr. Lvov (Uri Ravitz). Decent, self-righteous, rigid, Lvov berates Ivanov for a villain because rather than cherish and take care of Sara, he can’t bear to be near her (and hates himself for that even more). What’s more, every evening he flees the house for that of the Lebedyevs, his nouveau-riche neighbors whose large loan he has no hope of repaying.
Actually, the moneybags is crass, miserly Zuzushka (Irit Kaplan) whose rod of iron rule keeps Lebedyev (Dudu Niv) under her thumb. Their daughter Sasha (Dana Meinrath) is in love with Ivanov and Ivanov persuades himself that he indeed can love her back. When Sara dies, they plan to marry, but the plans go awry.
That’s the main plot, but this is Chekhov so there’s subplots aplenty, including a “romance” between Ivanov’s wastrel uncle Count Shabelsky (Gadi Yagil) and the social wannabe, very wealthy and terminally vulgar Marfusha (Osnat Ben-Yehuda).
In a long letter about Ivanov to Alexei Suvorin (a friend), in December, 1888, Chekhov sums up with, “If the audience leaves the theater [thinking] that Ivanovs are villains while the Dr. Lvovs are great people I will be forced to resign from the theater and send my pen to hell.”
We don’t. Rather we leave wondering, compassion uppermost.
Did space allow, there’d be pages and pages lauding Niv and Tiran (listed alphabetically).
Tiran’s Ivanov seems to loathe himself so much that he can’t bring himself to inhabit his body, rather hanging about its edges most of the time. We watch his self-destruction with a desperate, uneasy pity. Niv’s Lebedyev crawls, cringes, lets us see both his secret enjoyment of others’ misery and a character that’s at war with an innate decency. Layers upon layers, and it’s lovely stuff.
Gadi Yagil plays Yabelsky to its comic hilt, never overdoing. The two harpies, Kaplan’s Zuzushka and Ben-Yehuda’s Marfusha gloriously provide more comic relief, as does Simcha Barbiro as petty-thief and sponger Kossich.
Ravitz’ properly joyless, humorless Lvov lacks range as does Meinrath’s passionately evangelistic Sasha. Yarolova brings her usual intensity to put-upon Sara.
Michael Karamenko has outdone himself yet again with his set; the exterior of Ivanov’s modest home opens up to become the Lebedyevs’. Moni Mednik’s costumes are apt, the harpies’ especially.
Uri Morag’s often pitiless lighting is spoton.
Ivanov dates from 1888, but, oh, how about us it is in 2015.