BWW Reviews: Mikhail Baryshnikov Ignites MAN IN A CASE at The Broad Stage
Baryshnikov Productions presents MAN IN A CASE, featuring internationally acclaimed dancer and actor Mikhail Baryshnikov and a stellar cast of performers from Big Dance Theater including Jess Barbagallo, Tymberly Canale, Chris Giarmo and Aaron Mattocks. Performances take place from April 24 - May 10, 2014 at 7:30pm with select 2:00pm matinees at The Broad Stage, located at 1310 11th Street in Santa Monica. The production is made possible by a generous contribution from Laurie and Bill Benenson.
Adapted from two Anton Chekhov short stories, Man in a Case and About Love, MAN IN A CASE is a pair of haunting love stories - one of an officious, anti-social man and his involvement with an extroverted woman. The second, a tale of moral ambiguity in which the protagonist forgoes his love for a married woman. Though seemingly different, both are tales of fear trumping the pursuit of life's most promising possibilities, with Baryshnikov playing the two very different leading men.
Annie-B Parson and Paul Lazar, the team behind the internationally acclaimed Big Dance Theater, co-direct this sublime theatrical production, bringing their signature style - fusing theater, dance, music and video - to this newly distinctive work. Drawing from material as varied as surveillance footage, folk dance, instructional hunting videos, and interviews with the cast, MAN IN A CASE creates a bridge between our time and that of these 19th-century anti-love stories.
The evening is more of a sensory experience, with music and videos infusing every scene to create stage environments that appeal to both sight and sound as well as the heart. Every movement has a specific purpose, be it frustration, heartache, or loneliness. And yes, there are brief interludes during which Baryshnikov dances. His charisma is palpable, and his lithe body movements capture the eye and carry you to whatever imaginary place his character inhabits. Especially engaging is his apparent dance on the floor, during which time he completely changes his character and aura by the addition of costume pieces.
The inventive staging often breaks the fourth wall, letting the audience in on the action. Tei Blow and Keith Skretch, two sound and video technicians, appear onstage throughout the performance often interacting with the characters, assisting them move set pieces, as well as pulling screens up and down to allow for frequent video interludes. Then again, sometimes the images are broadcast on set pieces, especially effective when Baryshnikov's Belikov, a withdrawn and uptight teacher, sits as his desk bemoaning the school environment. A dreamlike sequence broadcast on the dropped canopy of his Murphy bed is appropriately frightening. Then there are lighter moments, the most surprising being when Tymberly Canale's loud footsteps continue after she stops walking across the stage, giving the sound technician and angry look. You can bet that did not happen again!
Speaking of Ms. Canale, she embodies the two very different women in the stories. First as Barbara, a free-spirited Ukrainian who attempts to capture the heart of the uptight Belikov, much to the delight of the others who hope a good woman will brighten the mood of the town's biggest curmudgeon. Her brother, hilariously played by Aaron Mattocks in full Ukrainian dress, adds much hilarity to the subdued man's life with riotous folk dances! And the passage of time is noted by others in the cast moving Barbara and Belikov around the stage wile seated on a couch. Seems improbable, but it works!
Next Canale transforms into Anna, the dutiful wife who falls in love with Baryshnikov's lonely, hard-working man, Alehim. It is during this part of the evening that the two actor-dancers brilliantly portray the agony of a love that cannot be consummated through inspiring dance numbers.
The original About Love short story (1898) explores the topic of lost love and carpe diem. In it, Baryshnikov's Alehim works with and becomes close friends with a man and his beautiful wife, Anna. Over the years, Alehim and Anna spend a great deal of their time together, and he falls passionately in love with her and feels confident she reciprocates his feelings. But she is a wife and mother, so they never act on their passion. At last, after many years, when Anna is setting out on the train to join her husband in a distant province, Alehim meets her at the train, takes her in his arms and proclaims his love. Their final separation dance will assuredly touch your heart as they celebrate their love, but alas the train leaves with her on it. "I kissed her for the last time, pressed her hand, and we parted forever." Surely this is a case of doing the right thing for the right reason, and yet... you have to wonder, what if?
Don't wonder - grab tickets to see MAN IN A CASE before it leaves Santa Monica on May 10. Full performance schedule and tickets at http://thebroadstage.com/man-in-a-case. Please be advised there is NO LATE SEATING for this show.
MAN IN A CASE performances on May 2, 3, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, 2014 at 7:30 pm and May 3, 4, 10, 2014 at 2:00 pm.
The Eli & Edythe Broad Stage, 1310 11th St. Santa Monica CA 90401
Prices are $47-$137 and can be purchased at www.thebroadstage.com or by calling the box office at 310.434.3200
Parking is FREE.
Photo credit: T. Charles Erickson