Magazine article Variety

Nikolai and the Others Makes for Dull Company

Magazine article Variety

Nikolai and the Others Makes for Dull Company

Article excerpt


Nikolai and the Others Makes for Dull Company

In Richard Nelson's new play, Nikolai and the Others, George Balanchine, Igor Stravinsky, Maria Tallchief and a full complement of other notable Russian emigres spend a Chekhovian weekend together in 1948 at a country house in Westport, Conn. Food is consumed, art is discussed and secrets are bared - quite stylishly, in fact, under David Croner's helming. But the essential take on this is that famous people can be just as dull as regular folks on a lazy weekend in the country.

Drawing on the packaging skills of savvy designers Marsha Ginsberg (sets), Ken Billington (lighting), and Daniel Kluger (sound), helmer Croner actualizes a key doctrine of Nelsonian dramaturgy - that significant, even momentous events always seem to be happening just out of sight in the next room, where "real" life is being lived by other people.

The all-important setting is a picturesque farmhouse where the Russian emigres have come together in 1948 to celebrate the birthday of the eldest among them, the set designer Sergey Sudeikin, played by Alvin Epstein with one foot in the grave.

The personal relationships here are the very devil to figure out, especially among the doormat wives and ex-wives who live to serve their famous men. But for all the geniuses in this elite company, the most important person in any room is always Nikolai Nabokov (soulfully played by Stephen Kunken). Never heard of Nikolai Nabokov? He was a composer who gave up his art to work for the CIA, which in those days was buying hearts and minds by funding art and artists. Not that any of this comes out in a straightforward manner in Nelson's oblique approach to playwriting.

In act one, the guests gather on the front porch, where the women are setting up tables for the first course of the elaborate birthday feast. But for all the catching up on the porch, the sounds of genuine joy and laughter all seem to be coming from inside the house.

For act two, the set turns a full 180 degrees, exposing the comfortable study where characters slip in to have a quiet word with Nikolai. And of course, all the fun is happening out on the porch.

With so many artists on the premises, there's the expectation that something artistic will eventually surface. That singular historic event is the unveiling of Orpheus, which the choreographer Balanchine (played with compelling charisma by Michael Cerveris) and Stravinsky (John Glover, slyly hinting at the composer's unruly personality) have been working on for two years. …

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