BWW Review: THREE DAYS IN THE COUNTRY - A Time Well-Spent
The west coast premiere of Patrick Marber's THREE DAYS IN THE COUNTRY receives a sturdy mounting by the always dependable Antaeus Theatre Company. Marber's adaptation of Ivan Turgenev's classic A MONTH IN THE COUNTRY has been smartly condensed and updated from its original five-act length to a much more manageable (and most witty and enjoyable) two-and-a-half-hour running time. Andrew Paul sure-handedly directs his talented cast of thirteen as they weave the tales of a group of Russian countryfolks' intertwined and purposely confusing relationships. Who's in love with whom? And does that person return the love to that same person? Can one person be attracted to more than one other person?
The simple utilitarian set by scenic designer Se Hyun Oh places our players in well-to-do landowner Arkady's living room, as well as, in assorted areas of his outdoor acreage (with minimal, but well-choreographed, set piece changing).
The opening scene presents Natalya, the lady of the house, lounging on a chaise listlessly reading a book while Rakitin makes small talk with her. Is he, her suitor flirting shamelessly in front of the other guests? Lots of flirting and lingering looks amongst various pairings, with hot chemistry quite in evidence amongst the mix-matched couplings.
Turns out the familiarity between Rakitin and Natalaya has been due to Rakitin's long, close friendship with Natalaya and her husband Arkady, his best friend. Rakitin and Natalaya's relationship, which might barely raise an eyebrow or two in today's climate, would be considered trés risqué back in this period Russian piece.
As the other characters are introduced, we realize the familial ties that complicate Rakitin and Natalaya's liaison.
But the fun and enjoyment of THREE DAYS IN THE COUNTRY has to be the shared participation in the character's realizations of their misunderstandings and mis-read messages. To explain all the connections of the characters would be giving too much away. So, let's just comment on the wonderful actors in this "The Assassins" cast (one of the two partnering cast of this Antaeus production).
The bold Anna Khaja, as Natalaya, rules her household and her family with a velvet glove, occasionally allowing her pent-up frustrations and primal attractions peek through. No doubt that Khaja's Natalaya loves her children while also having a weakness to the attentions of other men.
Corey Brill so perfect as Rakitin (the guy who let his best friend steal away his girl) even the non-confrontational Arkady (a most flustered Daniel Blinkoff) can't ignore Rakitan's transparent overtures to his wife.
Peter Mendoza charismatically endows his Belyaev (the younger protégé tutor of the two tutors) with the unspoiled, not-yet, well-versed manners that earns the the trust and admiration of his charge, the youngster Kolya, as well as, the budding affections of Kolya's teenage sister Vera.
Chelsea Kurtz beguiles as the innocent, new-to-love Vera. Kurtz' Vera's playful flirtation with Mendoza's Belyaev ring true and brings much smiling to watch. But... so does the 'flirtation' between Khaja's Natalaya and Mendoza's Belyaev - only not as playful. More seduction. Much hotter!
Belayaev also 'endures' another seductive encounter with the maid Katya, played ever-so-coyyingly by Ellis Greer. What she does with a plum!!!
As Shpigelsky, the local countryside doctor known and trusted by all, scene-stealer Harry Groener commands the stage each time he enters. Groener's comic line readings charms and convinces all to agree with anything Shpigelsky suggests. Well, almost everyone. Groener's Shpigeksky's 'proposal' scene to Dawn Didawick's spinster Lizaveta has to be the cutest, most practical, most unromantic, yet so romantic proposal you'll ever had the privilege to experience. These two actors (married in real life) playing off each other's simply a master class in comedy gold.
Another successful bit of physical comedy has wealthy neighbor Bolshintsov (a most befuddled Alberto Isaac) eating raspberries with Rakitin and Shpigelsky. Too, too funny watching these three comedic pros go through their berry ecstasies.
All in this most complementary and supportive ensemble receive their individual moments to shine: John Bobek, as the heartsick servant Matvey, as he unleashes his intimate emotions to his oblivious boss Arkday. Patrick Wenk-Wolff as Kolya's tutor Schaaf, when not teaching Kolya music and German, delightfully card sharks Arkady's mother Anna and spinster Lizaveta. Reba Waters Thomas, as Arkday's mother Anna, revels in her second act altercational scene with the well-matched Blinkoff's Arkady. A very effective Marcello Silva in the role of young Kolya as he easily exhibits his frustrations and growing pains of his protected countryside childhood.
Marber has ever so cleverly encapsulated the plethora of love, from the purity of young love sans any ulterior motives, to the business contractual arrangements of a passionless marriage, to a later-in-life practical approach (fueled by earned knowledgeable wisdom) for a co-habitation. Marber has embedded lots of details in passing exposition making sense of why or why not something is or isn't questioned or commented on. You might be confused. But you'll enjoy figuring it all out. For example, the probability of an arranged marriage between an older gentleman of wealth to a virginal teenage girl would not play in modern day sensibilities. Or would it?
Go spend THREE DAYS IN THE COUNTRY. You'll leave entertained with lots of food for thought.