BWW Reviews: MAN IN A CASE at Shakespeare Theatre Company - Chekhov Stories with Baryshnikov
I have to give Shakespeare Theatre Company Artistic Director Michael Kahn credit for bringing MAN IN A CASE to Baltimore/Washington audiences. According to Kahn, the production is part of the STC Presentation Series, which welcomes "bold, thought-provoking works from around the world." Another limited engagement coming in March of 2014 is the Kneehigh U.K. production of BRIEF ENCOUNTER based on the incredible film classic and Noel Coward's play STILL LIFE.
Let me begin by stating that MAN IN A CASE has been described as avant-guarde and experimental. It combines music, photography, video projections, dance, movement, and sound in a way you may have never witnessed. I must admit, one of the reasons I so much looked forward to this was to see one of the greatest dancers of our time, in person, Mikhail Baryshnikov and I'm not embarrased to say it. Many in the audience were there for the same reason. And when he makes his way to the stage through a side door in the theater, there is a sense of respect and awe that permeated the theater. You couldn't see his face. He sat down, his back to the audience. But everyone could tell you were in the presence of someone special. His movements were impeccable. His long coat was laid out on the floor of the stage. Every single movement of his as he lay on the floor over the coat and he ever so slowly put each of his arms in their respective sleeves and then rose to wear the coat...everyone seemed to want to applaud. It was that beautiful.
MAN IN A CASE was commissioned and premiered by the Hartford Stage in Connecticut and is a collaberation between Big Dance Theater and Baryshnikov Productions. The show adapted and directed by Annie-B Parson and Paul Lazar and choreographed by Parson, is based on two short stories by Checkhov. The first one, based on the short story "Man in a Case" concerns a Greek school teacher in a small Russian village, Belikov, played by Baryshnikov. Belikov is not a likeable fellow and makes everyone uncomfortable. He is isolated and lives alone behind in an apartment with enough locks it reminded me of the Jules Feiffer play, LITTLE MURDERS. His apartment has a "murphy bed" that comes out the wall and has a white sheet that Belikov uses to hide himself in, like a mosquito net. The only picture hanging on the murphy bed is an eye-test poster. Set Designer Peter Ksander does a wonderful job.
One of the most interesting scenes is one of Belikov's dreams inclues a fall down some steep steps done in slow motion and done beautifully. One can watch this on video screens.
Then he meets a woman, Barbara (played by the multi-talented Tymberly Canale). Belikov actually smiles for the first time about their courtship. Music Director and performer Chris Giarmo's plays the accordian and sings for them. And then (remember this is experimental theater) one hears the music of Carly Simon's "Coming Around Again". A disco ball falls from above.
"About Love" is the second story. The STC sells the book "About Love and Other Stories" by Checkhov and I much enjoyed reading "About Love" much more than reading the short story "Man in a Case". In this tale, Baryshnikov plays Alehin who falls in love with Anna, a married woman. Canale plays the married woman and is just radiant in her role. A scene to remember shows the two lovers lying on the stage with a video from high above capturing their intricate maneuvers.
Some of the humor is just plain funny. At one point, Canale is walking on the stage and the sound of her steps are quite clear. But when she stops walking...the sounds of her steps keep on going.
Ok, this is not for everybody. But there is music (some Slavic), wonderful dancing (some folk dancing), and you get a chance to see an iconic figure of the world of dance in person whose every movements are just plain wonderful.
MAN IN A CASE runs until December 22, 2013. For tickets, call 202-547-1122 or visit www.shakespeareTheatre.org. Let me know what you think.