Saturday, 29 May 1999

A Month in the Country, 29 May 1999

By Brian Friel  after Turgenev
VCA Graduating Year at Grant Street Theatre
until June 6, 1999
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

"All love is a catastrophe," says Michel  (Tyson Salijevic), Natalya's spurned lover in Turgenev's A Month in the Country. When an attractive stranger is introduced into an outwardly stable environment, everything goes awry.

Emotional chaos follows the appointment of the handsome young tutor, Aleksy in the house of Natalya (Tanja Bulatovic) and her rustic husband, Arkady ( Jonathan Pasvolsky). The situation echoes the arrival of Elena in Chekhov's Uncle Vanya.

A Month in the Country has all the sublimated passion and thwarted desires of the Russian style. Only the two servants, Katya (Jenny Schwinghammer) and Matvey (Howard Stanley) find love in the end.

The play provides the perfect showcase for the Victorian College of the Arts graduating actors. It is a ensemble piece with no star roles so each actor can strut his or her stuff at some point in the play.

Australian-US resident, Michael Edwards directs this stylish, albeit conventional production. Dean of Drama School, Lindy Davies, evidently twisted  his arm to convince him to take the job, but the product is strong and both company and director seem delighted with the outcome.

The stage design (Rainbow Sweeney) is a beautifully simple polished blond wood floor with deeper, more decorative wooden chairs and table. Period costumes (Amanda Silk) in muted tones add the only adornment.

The style of performance is natural and underplayed. Actors are comfortable and relaxed on stage - sometimes too relaxed. The energy level often drops to such a degree that they are almost inaudible.

The ensemble is strong and includes professional actors, Howard Stanley, Paul Robertson and Will Hodgson all of whom provide hilarious and colourful cameos.

As the gag-meister doctor, Shpigelsky, Joseph Manning is a energetic presence and his loved one, Lisaveta, is played with dignity by Amanda Hulme. Sibylla Budd as the ingenue, Vera, marries a sweet naivete with intense emotion and Oliviero Papi is a bright and lively Aleksy.

Playing Natalya, Bulatovic shifts aptly between mature and childish seductiveness and Pasvolsky captures her husband's gaucheness.

Although the production lacks a dynamic energy, it is a fine production.

By Kate Herbert

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