By Michael “Buzz” Buzzelli, ‘Burgh Vivant
The Shakespearean aphorism that “brevity is the soul of wit” holds true as contemporary playwright Patrick Marber take on Ivan Turgenev’s “A Month in the Country.” Marber shortens the visit and the length of the play in his re-imagined version, “Three Days in the Country.”
The production is two hours shorter than its original Russian counterpart, it’s still dense on plot.
Natalya (Nike Doukas), a restless woman, grows tired of her very tiresome husband, Arkady (David Whalen), and eyes the new tutor, Belyaev (Adam Haas Hunter). Meanwhile, Arkady’s best friend, Rakitin (Leo Marks), longs for Natalya. A local doctor, Shpigelsky (Sam Tsoutsouvas), is conspiring with a rich neighbor, Bolshintsov (Larry John Meyers) to win the hand of the fair Vera (Katie Weiland), Natalya’s young ward.
The doctor has his sights on Lizaveta (Helena Ruoti), but Lizaveta spends most of her time in the company of Arkady’s mother (Susie McGregor-Laine), the German tutor (David Crawford) and her not-so-secret box of snuff.
There’s yet another storyline; the maid, Katya (Erika Strasburg), is breaking off her engagement to Matvey (Andrew William Miller), because she is also in love with Belyaev. Actually, Belyaev is very, very popular. He kisses a lot of ladies.
William Shakespeare also wrote, “The course of true love never did run smooth,” but in “Three Days in the Country,” the ride is especially bumpy.
There is a big basket of unrequited love in this countryside abode. The story is filled with heartbreak and sadness, but it’s still unbelievably witty. It’s easy to laugh at the misfortunes of these tortured souls because their pain is so recognizable. Everyone has once stood in their shoes.
Rakitin’s love for Natalya is particularly tragic. He muses, “To dream in flickering glimpses of legs and eyes and mouth – to remember each day — one kiss of seven years ago.”
Marber (and Turgenev) bring out the uglier side of love, hold it up and snarl at it.
Director Andrew Paul brings an incredible cast to the New Hazlett stage. He brings back the young Will Sendera (“The Giver”) and surrounds him with a plethora of talented actors.
Doukas is luminescent as Natalya. She dazzles and charms even while planning secret rendezvous with the hired help. She commands Narelle Sissons’ sparse stage in gloriously appointed gowns created by Kim Brown.
Russian dressing on the side: All of Brown’s costumes are detailed masterpieces. Weiland is stunning in yellow dress in the first act. Doukas’ final cocktail dress with long, flowing train is a work of art.
But the cast is the reason for the show. They are each spectacular in their own way. There’s a lot of them, but the stage never feels overcrowded. The disparate plot lines and character arcs could have gotten easily muddled in the hands of lesser actors, but this group shines brilliantly.
Hunter smolders as the young, handsome tutor. Whalen plays a bombastic bully with a soft side. Crawford amuses with small but perfect moments. Crawford has a moment where he mournfully gazes into an empty glass that produces giggle fits from the audience.
Tsoutsovas is delightful as the scheming doctor. In the second act, Tsoutsovas’ Shpigelsky proposes to Ruoti’s Lizaveta. It’s hilarious, sharp and cutting scene; a ballet of words, that verbally pivots and pliés in circles. The scene is worth the price of admission.
But it is Marks’ tortured Rakitin who is the center of the play. His pain is heartfelt and genuine, but he gets some of the wittiest lines.
Paul’s direction is taut and…well…kinetic. Actors dart about the stage, performing to all four invisible walls (it is performed theater in the round style).
Spend two and a half hours in the “Country.” It’s an enjoyable excursion.
“Three Days in the Country” runs until December 4 at the New Hazlett Theater, 6 Allegheny Square East, Pittsburgh, PA 15212. For more information, click here.