Jay Scheib’s messy avant-production of Platonov, or The Disinherited, a play Chekhov wrote at around 21 years old, reminds me of too many other experimental productions with more joie de vivre and versatility, whose performances operated with the same ironic distance but still managed to connect emotionally, even viscerally.
The main idea — dismantling, updating, and stumbling all over a Chekhov play — recalls The Wooster Group’s Brace Up!, their brilliant madcap take on The Three Sisters. But Scheib, in this production at the Kitchen, doesn’t have Paul Schmidt’s translation chops, Elizabeth LeCompte’s manic precision and visual genius, performances on the level of Kate Valk’s or Ron Vawter’s, or a finished, mature Chekhov work. Platonov hints at Chekhov’s future, particularly the tangled infatuations of The Seagull, but only just. The pratfalls, mooning, disrobing of the cast, and general stage- and text-trashing feel derivative of Radiohole’s modus operandi, but come off joylessly and lack free beer for audience members.
Rather than incorporating video and television screens into his theatrical vision à la LeCompte, Scheib has videographers onstage taping his actors at close range — sometimes offstage, sometimes concealed by the many-roomed set — while projecting the performance onto a video screen above, essentially transforming The Kitchen into a TV soundstage. Mystifyingly, it’s both performed and subtitled in English. If you’re in the room, all this makes it difficult to know where to look. I felt jealous of people watching the simulcast at various NYC movie theaters, who must have had a more complete and possibly more satisfying experience.