Published in Trent University’s Arthur Newspaper, Monday, March 17th, print and online.
Robert Winslow’s performance of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven (1845) had an intensity that extended itself a little too far. During the performance, in which he recited the poem word for word, each stanza he delivered edged closer and closer to madness. I appreciated this insofar as it kept me on the edge of my seat, but by the end, Winslow’s death metal growl of “Nevermore!” turned me, and likely many others, quite off. The music of Justin Hiscox (piano) and Saskia Tomkins (violin) proved to be a valuable addition as an introduction and coda to the performance. As an opening piece, The Raven was a welcomed counter-point to the light-hearted love story to follow.
Winslow played the part of the onstage narrator in Lisa Hamalainen’s adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s Lady with a Lap Dog, a short story published in 1899. The 40-year-old Gurov was played by the wonderful Beau Dixon, Kate Story brilliantly performed 22-year-old Anna, otherwise known as the lady with the dog, and Hamalainen played Gurov’s wife.
See-through white fabrics dangled from ceiling to floor on a bare set comprised of a few tables and chairs depending on the scene. The story then took place across three locations: Yalta, Moscow, and St. Petersburg.
Gurov had gone to Yalta for some time away from wife and children, and similarly, Anna had fled to Yalta for a break from her “lackey” husband. The two meet and begin an affair that abruptly ends as Anna must return to St. Petersburg.
Gurov believed this affair would be like any other – he would quickly forget Anna and life in Moscow would return to its mundane regularity. Fortunately for readers and spectators, Anna is not so easily forgotten. Our man rushes to St. Petersburg, they reunite briefly, and she suggests coming to see him in Moscow. The story ends with their secret rendezvous in Moscow, a sense of hope, and much enthusiasm for the couple’s future.
Dixon’s monologues were delivered with such a warm and affectionate air; Story’s Anna was wonderfully executed; Winslow’s voyeuristic narrator was humorous and perfectly on time with the actions and emotions of the lovers.
But it is this tension between interior monologue and narration that troubled me most. Hamalainen’s adaptation was drawn straight from the original text, but with one major change; the narration of the short story had largely been transplanted into monologues. Given that I know the short story well, I received these monologues poorly (as elements of the narrative, not a slight against Dixon’s performance). What a character is willing to divulge – to himself, to the audience – can be vastly different from what the narrator’s omniscient voice is capable of addressing. I think this is the case with Chekhov’s text.
In Hamalainen’s construction of the text, Gurov’s transformation into an honest and decent man, capable of unconditionally loving Anna, is unquestionable. In Chekhov’s story, such a transformation is viewed as momentary at best. In Hamalainen’s play, Gurov and Anna come together to the sounds of a piano and violin, not unlike the perfect Hollywood love story; in Chekhov, it is at least ambiguous if not probable that Gurov and Anna have merely swapped their current partners for each other and both, in clear indicators of bad faith, justify their illicit affair. Put differently, in the performance I did not doubt the beauty of this couple’s romance; the short story, on the other hand, tells an inconclusive tale.
The question, then, is what was gained from adapting the story to the stage. Both are entertaining, perhaps even the latter more so; but for the commentary on human nature, social norms, and the delusions of happy love, the written text still provides more.
Also see my review of Chekhov’s Three Sisters.