Antaeus's Three Days in the Country Stays Close to the Source

Leigh Kennicott Reviews - Theater
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First let me get this straight: Anton Chekhov was 12 years old when Ivan Turgenev’s A Month in the Country debuted. But by the time he began writing plays in 1887, Turgenev’s play had become a staple in Russian Theater repertoire. I say this because there is a bit of confusion now that Three Days in the Country made its West Coast Debut last weekend at the Antaeus Theatre Company’s new digs in Glendale. Patrick Marber, the British playwright, revised and edited Turgenev’s original to create his own version that sits well in the 21st century. But in doing so, he incorporated more of the flavor of what we know of Russian drama from Anton Chekhov. The lines between Turgenev’s proto-Chekhovian play and Chekhov’s influence on Marber bring the piece full circle.

Although Three Days is an entertaining piece, it is deceptive as an example of Russian theatre with an “R.” And Antaeus’ practice of double casting adds another layer to its meaning. Under Andrew Paul’s direction, the two casts bring marked different interpretations to the fore. On opening weekend, “The Assassins” cast on Friday exhibited the torpor of summer. The household seems weighed down by depression generated by Natalya (Anna Khaja). Daniel Blinkoff as Arkady, her husband, has learned to tip-toe around her, staying out of the way even when Rakitin (Corey Brill) arrives to offer some harmless flirtation.

On the other hand, “The Blunderers” on Saturday seemed much more on edge as if awaiting an explosion that is sure to come. This time, Nike Doukas as Natalya is the powder keg, with the others responding accordingly. Antonio Jaramillo, as her husband, is just as explosive, just not in her presence. Here Rakitin's (Leo Marks) more ascerbic wit serves the rest of cast’s temperament to perfection.

The play abounds with delicious, stand-alone set pieces that will please any acting teacher. Witness the “raspberry feast scene” where the doctor, elderly neighbor, and guest sit together munching comfortably as if waiting for a train that never comes. Or when the Doctor, played variously by Harry Groener and Armin Shimerman, proposes to the spinster, Lizaveta (Dawn Didawick or Lily Knight). The combinations provide endless variations for presentation as the Doctor recounts his short-comings rather than his positive qualities in his proposal.

But the young tutor Belyaev (Peter Mendoza) serves as the catalyst for the plot. His performance creates a blank page upon which everyone, from Natalya to all the other young women in the household, can paint their own ideal of manhood. It helps that Mendoza is a very handsome young man. But the choice is puzzling, since, in Turgenev’s original, all the women pin their hopes on a very confused and weak Belyaev, making their antics absurd and more the point of the piece.

Antaeus has mounted a sumptuously costumed production (by A. Jeffrey Schoenberg), set against a utilitarian backdrop (designed by Se Hyun Oh). Properties mistress Erin Walley has fun with kite-flying, presumably helped by lighting designer Jared A. Sayeg, and Chris Moscatiello’s sound design fills in the gaps. There is only one puzzling omission: Both Natalya’s have uncharacteristically modern hair styles. Perhaps the budget didn’t allow for wigs in the production.

Three Days in the Country will continue fielding alternating casts on Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m.; Sundays at 2:00 p.m. and Mondays at 8:00 p.m. through August 26th, 2018 at Antaeus Theatre’s new digs, 110 E. Broadway, in Glendale, CA, 91205.  Tickets are $30 - $34. For reservations phone (818) 506-1983 or online at www.antaeus.org.