Thursday, May 6, 2010
"The Forest" at Classic Stage Company, May 1, 2010
Early Russian dramatist Alexander Ostrovsky's time spent translating Shakespeare is evident in Kathleen Tolan's adaptation of his play, The Forest. It captures the classic elements of Russian drama - money, class structure and romance, combined with the Shakespearean elements of misrepresentation and star-crossed lovers.
This is the story Madam Raisa (Dianne Wiest), a vain and selfish woman who runs her household and the lives of all in it through her tight-fisted control of the purse strings. Hoping to marry off her destitute niece, Aksyusha (Lisa Joyce) to a young and callow, but penniless nobleman, Bulanov (Adam Driver), another lodger at the estate. Raisa's nephew Gennady (John Douglas Thompson), whom she owes money, turns up after a 15 year absence. A vagabond tragedian posing as a gentleman, Gennady seeks to recover the debt and perhaps a bit more from his aunt, accompanied by his comrade, the comedian Arkady (Tony Torn). Confessions of love for those unexpected and/or unintended turn the wheels of the story.
Ms Wiest manages to find some humanity in the mercurial Raisa, at times as kopeck-pinching as a miser, at times as shallow as a school-girl and at times as cruel and cold as a dragon. She bellows and flirts, decrees and submits from moment to moment. Her household views her as all-powerful, yet in the presence of other men, she fawns and demures.
Mr. Thompson's Gennady postures and poses, actually winning the bellowing contest with Ms. Wiest. Overall though, it's a merely a serviceable performance, much like the rest of the cast.
Director Brian Kulick, after a slow first act, gets things moving through the sometimes clunky plot in the second. Santo Loquasto's set harkens back a bit to his last Russian entry, CSC's Uncle Vanya, with a large open staircase of timbers, this time sponged green to invoke the oft-referred to forest. Marco Piemontese's costumes are appropriate and for Ms. Wiest, gorgeous.
If your interest is in Russian drama, this is a good opportunity to see work that probably wouldn't come along otherwise. Shakespeare scholars may also find interest here. As for the rest of us? Go to see Ms. Wiest rise above her material.
The Forest runs through May 30.