Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Representatives' BAZAROV


Sunday night. Bazarov. The Representatives take on Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons. In the West-Park fourth floor gym.

Stan Richardson and Matt Steiner have mastered their own genre in their ongoing series of  apartment plays. Nobody, repeat nobody, I’m aware of in  theatre has been able to express the reality of late twenties-early thirties no longer feeling  invincible just beginning to be aware of mortality Frances Ha New York like Stan Richardson. His easy flowing natural dialogue; tight and intelligent narrative, well-defined context and ever present socio-political subtext set you up for a dramatic knock out punch that always comes as a surprise. But when you look back, never unearned.You feel like you’ve walked in on your young neighbors’ lives in media res.  Still, to move from compact 50 minute drama to sprawling mid 19th century Russian epic is a stretch. One that Stan is equal to.

For me it was like one of Matt’s Representatives’ characters wandered out of an apartment and into mid 19th century Russia. Matt’s everyman character, always open and transparent, knows less about himself than  the audience does. (I’d love to talk with someone for whom this is their first Representatives performance.) He is our guide into this world. 

Along with, of course, his friend, the title character, Bazarov, enacted by Roger Lirtsman. I first saw Roger as the enigmatic Michel in Woodshed’s the Tenant, here two summers ago. I later saw him in an earlier apartment play. As an actor he always comes across as centered and self-contained. But as Bazarov, he  allows us to see through the cracks into the angst and passion that lie beneath the surface. More than  a few audience members come away not liking Bazarov. But I can’t help but like him. Roger lets the humanity show through, especially in the duel scene with Pavel. Besides, he’s just out of college!

And I knew Bazarov. He’d been away  on a somewhat mysterious year abroad when I first arrived at college. But was legend. A philosopher, a poet, with an athletic ease and beauty. When he returned, an intense circle of people gathered around him. There was a spiritual practice. And he had somehow collected all the schematic drawings of the college’s heating system, boilers, pipes and all because it might prove valuable. When he realized that those in the circle would do anything he asked, anything, he vanished. He was also on the run from the draft. One Christmas he showed up at my home and asked if he could hang out for a few days. My liberal parents were a bit challenged trying to deal with harboring a fugitive. A small circle of his close friends appeared at our house. And then he was gone. He later surfaced and finished his college at a state school in New Jersey. On a basketball scholarship.

(Now why did I go there?)

It will take another viewing to resolve some of my questions regarding dramatic choices. But I suspect those have more to do with Stan’s script than the direction. Ben Vershbow was faced with a radical restaging due to a last minute change in venue. The three different seating configurations, one for each act, worked. Especially with the craft cocktails served at the first break. For me, I like a full immersive, wandering around choose your adventure experience like Woodshed or simply being able to sit and watch. I find so-called panoramic theatre more annoying than engaging. This three perspective staging was just right for an over two and a half hour play.

Stan’s attraction to Turgenev is easy to get. The connection between the nihilists of that day and the euro autonomes and the so-called black block  Occupy anarchists is easy to see. ( In the #OWS universe, divided into work groups, there was actually a work group called the Blocking Group dedicated to blocking anything that would be proposed at Spokescouncils or General Assemblies.)

And the liberals of that time, confused and frustrated by being left behind are directly related to today’s liberals. When I was invited to Yale last fall to speak about Occupy and religion, I said that liberals were the real problem. The hurt feelings and non-comprehension ran  deep. But that’s another story...
The conversation about the difference between those nihilists and today’s anarchists is best held over post-performance cold  Brooklyns. (That and a quick audience check tells me the Brooklyn-West-Park pipeline opened by Woodshed remains...)Most obviously, the role of art is understood in a different way today. And any discussion of nihilism in a post 9-11 world is problematic.

The Representatives give us straight, accessible drama without a hint of the ever ubiquitous (around here) Grotowski. You do get a  touch of Brecht’s breaking through the fourth wall but without estrangement. Stan clearly sees in Turgenev a fellow traveler, one who went down the road  before. Turgenev’s realism, and critical social analysis arguably transformed Russian literature. This Bazarov takes us into that world  and back out again causing us to reflect more critically on our own time. 

That is theatre. And that is good.

I am glad they wound up here.

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