Anthony J. Piccione
It can often be risky to pull off an adaptation of a previously done work, when it deviates from the original in any way, shape or form. Needless to say, it’s even more risky to attempt to conceive a show that blends the work of one artist with that of another. Yet that’s exactly what we are treated to at the Medicine Show Theatre, in the form of the show Mr. Chekhov and Mr. Porter, and the result is a show that, for the most part, plays out relatively well.
Conceived by producer Regan Vann Batuello and developed by director Janet Bentley and music director Andy Evan Cohen, the show is exactly what one might think of from the title: an intriguing blend of the plays of Anton Chekhov and the music of Cole Porter. Overall, the songs used for the show sync well with the stories being told in this production. There’s only so much you can do – in terms advancing the plot – by adding songs that originally weren’t intended for that particular story, but this show is successful at taking it as far as possible. It was easy for me to get some good, old-school Broadway (early-to-mid 20th century) vibes from this show, which I suspect is probably what these artists were hoping for.
The Medicine Show Theatre’s venue is not unlike most other Off-Off-Broadway venues, in that it’s a relatively small and intimate space. Yet this production excels at making the most of it, in a way that not all shows I see each year are. The wonderful set design of Ms. Bentley gives one the impression that a future iteration of this show should be on a larger stage, even as the performance itself helps strike a good balance by preserving the lovely intimacy that often comes with indie theatre. Also enhancing the show’s visual aesthetic is the outstanding work of costume designer Janet Mervin, whose costumes do an equally fine job at capturing the time period that this show seems to be trying to capture.
However, my highest praise for this production goes to the cast, which overall, does a very fine job at performing a show that’s heavy on both music and choreography. From the beginning of the show, Sam Durant Hunter (Treplev) stands out as being a particularly strong lead performer in the cast, delivering a particularly energetic and vocally impressive performance in this production. Shea Madison (Nina/Olga/Yelena) also stands out in this show, proving to be both charming and vocally strong in her performance. Some other highlights worth mentioning are Aran Beiderson (Uncle Vanya), Felix E. Gardon (Dorn/Firs/Serf) and Michelle Tsai (Anya/Irina/Servant), who all turn in some of the finer performances toward Act II of the show, when we really get to see more of the cast. The cast is rounded out by Bill Blechingberg (Medvedenko/Lopakhin), Demetrius Blocker (Sorin/Trofimov/Moscow), Daniel Robert Burns (Trigorin/Gaev/Astrov), Ivette Dumeng (Masha/Serf), Justyna Kostek (Charlotta/Servant), Molly Revenson (Sonya/Yakov/Yasha) and Cynthia Shaw (Arkadina/Ranevskaya).
My one big issue worth noting is that it does sometimes feel as if the creators of it were trying to cram too much into one show, particularly as the show reached Act II. While Act I is certainly wonderful, I got the feeling that it was devolving into too many stories going on at once during Act II. Perhaps this was just me, but I couldn’t help but wonder if this was a problem that could have easily be fixed, had it been decided to focus on no more than two – as opposed to four – of Chekhov’s plays.
I will give this show the benefit of the doubt, though, in that it was successful at what was clearly its primary goal: To simply create an entertaining night for theatergoers that demonstrates how Porter’s music can easily be fit into Chekhov’s plays. A few extra rewrites might have made the overall show stronger, but it was still quite entertaining – both visually and musically speaking – and the cast did a very good job at bringing it to life. Indeed, there are plenty of worse hypothetical scenarios I can think of, in terms of blending the work of two distinguished artists such as these…
“Mr. Chekhov and Mr. Porter" runs at Medicine Show Theatre from January 26th to February 24th. For more information, please visit www.medicineshowtheatre.org