De la Fuente and Orville Mendoza
photo: Ching Gonzalez

Anton Chekhov's Ivanov is routinely labeled a "problem play" for being gloomy, psychologically opaque, and long, among other unforgivable traits. Critics invariably describe it as a warm-up to the Russian playwright's great masterworks, and as a result, contemporary revivals of Ivanov are often faulted for not being The Cherry Orchard or Uncle Vanya. What does it take to look at this play afresh? The National Asian American Theater Company's new production of Ivanov doesn't attempt any radical revisions to the play, nor does it slavishly adhere to the original text. Aside from some modest abridging, the story remains largely intact. Ivanov (Joel de la Fuente) is a bored Russian landowner whose marriage is disintegrating and who finds himself persecuted by the scorn of his neighbors. A chronic depressive, Ivanov tries unsuccessfully to locate the source of his own misery but succeeds only in alienating everyone even more. This intelligently acted production excels at evoking both the despair and absurdity of Ivanov's existential condition—this is a comedy, after all. And the nontraditional casting turns out to have an invaluable rejuvenating effect, like looking at an overly familiar painting from a slightly different angle. It's the same old masterpiece magically liberated from decades of oppressive critical baggage.

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