Thursday, 24 April 2003

Breath by Breath, by Peta Tait & Matra Robinson, April 24, 2003

Breath by Breath by Peta Tait & Matra Robinson  
La Mama at The Courthouse,  April 24 to May 10, 2003
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

There is something haunting about Breath by Breath written by Peta Tait and Matra Robinson. The play fabricates a collision of two periods of time and two events during the later life of Anton Chekhov,  the Russian playwright.

In 1900, Chekhov lives in the Russian provincial town of Yalta.  A company of actors rehearse a play and Chekhov falls in love with actress, Olga Knipper.  The second more ethereal story is set six years earlier. The past bleeds into the present as the actors prepare their play.

In 1894,  in Yalta, there is unrest. The men of the town council want to evict all Jews from the town. Their violent expulsion from the region is based in fact.

Malak  (Robert Jordan) is both a member of the Jewish tribe and Chekhov's mus in the play. He drifts like a wraith into Chekhov' vision during 1900 and compels the playwright to see the horrors of 1894.

The play draws on the style of Chekhov's writing and the revolutionary acting style of Constantin Stanislavski's   Moscow Art Theatre. Chekhov wrote plays about ordinary lives and people of his era. But ordinariness can also produce heightened emotion, real pain and horror.

The ensemble gives fine performances. As Chekhov, Neil Pigot  finds a balance between the vulnerability of the consumptive playwright and his passionate nature. Anastasia Malinoff  plays Olga, his lover, as delightfully erratic and loving, a modern woman who wants both love and a career in the theatre.

Adrian Mulraney  is compelling as the unpleasant mayor who seeks racial cleansing for his town. Bruce Kerr  plays the oppressed Jewish workman with warmth and bob Pavlich creates a frightening truth in the mercenary who murders the Jewish men in the local quarry.

The production is designed and directed with simplicity and sensitivity by Meredith Rogers.  The stage is almost empty but for a few chairs and an abstract metal and stone water well.
A scrim of sheer white and lacework provides not only a sense of the period but a vehicle fro projections of Chekhov's home in Yalta.

Evocative live music ( Madeleine Flynn, Tim Humphrey) echoes gypsy tunes and classical music.

This is a mysterious and interesting play that deserves seeing.

By Kate Herbert

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