Yale University, New Haven
(International Festival of Arts & Ideas, New Haven)
New Haven’s International Festival of Arts & Ideas has, once more, struck gold with its Hungarian “Ivanov”—proving that it can still be depended upon to import remarkable overseas productions. Brought over from Budapest, the Katona Jozsef Theatre Company’s “Ivanov” now at Yale Rep’s University Theatre is jolting, hilarious and unique unto itself.
“Ivanov,” like all Chekhov dramas, deals with the boredom and despair of its characters, a challenge to any director. How does a director make that theme absorbing to an audience? This time, director Tamas Ascher solves the problem by turning it into a three-ring circus, complete with heavy-handed physical jokes. The characters are caricatures or clowns. The curtain opens, for example, with a man stretched out across two chairs, sleeping soundly. Or so we think. But just as another man threatens him with a gun, he reaches down and calmly turns a page. He has been reading all the time. It is such a surprise that the audience responds with nervous laughter, and the tone is set. This “Ivanov” is off and running, and never stops.
Yet Ascher does not give short shrift to the story. As the tale goes, both Ivanov, and his country estate, are in sad disrepair. The estate is mismanaged, neglected, and heavily in debt, while Ivanov himself escapes reality through reading and philandering. He longs to be rid of his wife, who is dying of consumption. She, on the other hand, is a Jew who has renounced her family, her culture, and her religion to marry Ivanov for love. She finds no solace in the country life, where provincialism and anti-semitism is rampant. In any event, he escapes each night, running off to neighbors’ social gatherings. Though the underlying story is poignant, the production is infused with so much comedy that the result is a highly entertaining enterprise which never falters.
One cannot single out stars in this large cast, since each performance is polished to perfection, each role shining like a jewel—but all combining in one flawless ensemble. Though English translations are provided in overhead surtitles, one hardly needs to follow the dialogue. The visual scene tells it all.
In summary, this “Ivanov” is one to be savored during its all-too-short visit.
-- Irene Backalenick
June 25, 2009