BY MICHAEL SOMMERS
OFF BROADWAY REVIEW
Ethan Hawke wrenchingly explores the manic highs and bleakest lows of a 1880s Russian gentleman struggling against depression in “Ivanov” at Classic Stage Company.
Hawke’s stormy performance in the anguished title role of Anton Chekhov’s rarely-staged 1888 drama is accompanied by the sterling work of other fine actors in director Austin Pendleton’s silvery revival.
Opening on Sunday at CSC’s intimate theater, “Ivanov” further benefits from the ripe Russian quality of Carol Rocamora’s translation, abetted by the elegant looks of Santo Loquasto’s spare setting and Marco Piemontese’s exquisite period clothes.
“Ivanov” represents Chekhov writing in a bolder, more satirical vein than in his wistful classics. A self-torturing soul who Hawke was born to play, Ivanov is a formerly well-off and idealistic gent who now finds his life a mess in his middle 30s. He is broke, has guiltily fallen out of love with his wife Anna – who is dying of consumption – and generally lost his way.
Others are affected by Ivanov’s explosive sorrows. Contrasting against the touching Joely Richardson’s deeply melancholy Anna, Juliet Rylance earnestly portrays Sasha, a sweet young thing drawn to Ivanov’s flailing charms.
Not every viewer will be so tolerant of Ivanov’s ceaseless agonizing in spite of (or because of) Hawke’s typically intense performance. I greatly enjoyed Hawke’s frenzies, but hope he guards his voice, which sounds raw, even for him.
The 13-member ensemble provides vivid portraits within Chekhov’s satirical look at provincial Russian society. In addition to developing these exceptional performances, Pendleton lately has taken over for Louis Zorich in the role of Sasha’ alcoholic papa – and plays him with heartbreaking amiability. George Morfogen as a burnt-out aristocrat, Glenn Fitzgerald as a bumptious estate manager, Jonathan Marc Sherman as a contemptuous doctor, Roberta Maxwell as a miserly matron and Stephanie Janssen as a frisky young widow step right out of the pages of Chekhov’s short stories.