Saturday, April 27, 2013

Nikolai and the Others **

(Please click on the title to see the complete review.)
Judging from his new play at Lincoln Center Theater, Richard Nelson does not believe that less is more. He gives us 18 characters to keep track of over a span of 2 hours, 40 minutes, with a ballet excerpt thrown in for good measure. 15 of the characters are Russian emigres involved in the arts, including choreographer George Balanchine (Michael Cerveris), composer Igor Stravinsky (John Glover), conductor Serge Koussevitsky (Dale Pace), actor Vladimir Sokoloff (John Procaccino), set designer Sergey Sudeikin (Alvin Epstein) and, last but not least, Nikolai Nabokov (Stephen Kunken), a minor composer who is working for the U.S. government spreading largess to win the cultural Cold War. They, their wives, ex-wives and admirers are gathered on a Spring weekend in 1948 in rustic Connecticut to celebrate the ailing Sudeikin's name day and view a rehearsal of Orpheus, Balanchine and Stravinsky's current collaboration. The remaining three characters are the dancers Maria Tallchief, Balanchine's current wife (Natalia Alonso), and Nicholas Magallenes (Michael Rosen), and an uninvited guest "Chip" Bohlen (Gareth Saxe), a U.S. diplomat who keeps an intimidating eye on important Russian emigres. The play is most successful in capturing the pathos of those cut off from their cultural heritage, nostalgic for their homeland, clinging together, insecure and fearful in their adopted country. The rehearsal scene gives some insight into the creative process and provides us with some gorgeous dancing. The ballet sequence also provides a welcome respite from the nonstop conversation, table setting and clearing and eating. The role of the wives (Blair Brown, Kathryn Erbe and Betsy Aidem) is mainly to look after their men. The dancers don't get much respect either. During the course of the weekend, Nikolai comes to regret abandoning composing for his job helping fellow emigres and feels the sting of ingratitude. The acting seemed a bit flat, but with such a large cast, there is not much opportunity to develop deep characterization. David Cromer directs with a sure hand. The shabbiness of Marsha Ginsberg's set is deliberate, I assume. Jane Greenwood's costumes seem appropriate. Even though I was predisposed to like the play because of my interest in Balanchine and Stravinsky, I found it less rewarding than I had hoped. Running time: 2 hours, 40 minutes including intermission.

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