Chekhov Lizardbrain: Iguana be Sedated
Philadelphia's Pig Iron Theater Company returns to New York with Chekhov Lizardbrain- a hilarious and brilliant deconstruction of Chekhovian theatrical tropes and of the workings of the human brain. Taking inspiration from autistic author and teacher Temple Grandin's book Animals in Translation, the play takes Paul Maclean's Triune Brain Theory as its central motif- there is the lizard brain, which handles autonomic bits such as breathing, heart rate, digestion, respiration rate, salivation... the dog brain, from whence comes our emotional responses... and the neoma mmalian brain which handles reason and language. The play and its characters all work at different times at varying levels of existence/emotion/reason.
We are first introduced to our master of ceremonies, Chekhov Lizardbrain himself (James Sugg). Barely moving except when necessary and fully deadpan, Lizardbrain speaks as though he's not quite sure how the sentences he speaks are really supposed to go together. He then also introduces us to the timid (and most likely autistic) Dimitri, who inhabits his body. Dimitri begins to recount how he purchased a house from three brothers who lived there, but keeps getting the actual events confused with a more romantic and faux-Chekhov pastiche. Two brothers, Nikolai (Dito van Reigersberg) and Pyotr (Gabriel Quinn Bauriedel) have come back to their old home after their mother's death, ostensibly for the birthday of their youngest brother, Sascha (Geoff Sobelle), who still lives in the house, but really to tell him that they plan to sell their shares in the house, but since they know Sascha won't be able to buy them out, he'll have to move. Dimitri runs into one of the brothers at the supermarket, and invites him to buy the place.
The play keeps shifting through different modes of expression - sometimes the three brothers run around in long underwear with topcoats and hats, with mustaches plainly strapped to their faces with elastic; other times Nikolai and Pyotr are Nicholas and Peter (Sascha is always Sascha), and the storytelling is in a more realistic mode, where Dimitri is less understood and keeps missing the non-verbal cues that people keep giving him.
The actors are all wonderful, each navigating the tricky text and movement with practiced ease. Sugg especially is incredibly, frighteningly perfect as both the laconic Lizardbrain and the sheepish Dimitri.
All the performers are listed as co-creators. The intriguing text is by Robert Quillen Camp. Dan Rothernberg's direction is always crisp and clean. Anna Kiraly's set is gorgeous, a circle with table and chairs, surrounded by museum ropes, and with a curtain in back that opens to reveal the cavelike depths of a brain. Olivera Gajic's costumes are lively and amusing. Nick Kourtides' sound design is highly impressive.
Chekhov Lizardbrain is an astounding piece of theatre. Go see it, while it's here in NYC!
Pig Iron Theater Company
October 2-19, Thursday - Sunday at 8pm.
The Ohio Theater
66 Wooster Street (between Spring & Broome Streets - accessible from the C, E trains to Spring Street.)
Tickets are $20 - $35, available at 212-868-4444 or SmartTix.com.