by Carole Di Tosti
Off-Axis Productions in association with Off The Leash Productions’s dark, romantic comedy The Chekhov Dreams by John McKinney provide a delightful, humorous romp through eternal love and the literary life in a production which abounds with zany and fanciful twists. In its world premiere at Theatre Row’s The Beckett Theatre until 17 February, the show is in a limited run which is unfortunate. Unless it is extended at The Beckett or another venue, you will not be able to appreciate this intriguing and always spot-on play that is a unique entertainment. The production is more thoughtfully profound than it may initially appear. Yet, its ironies and robust comedy will delight all comers.
John McKinney’s coherent logic in his plot development and his humorous twitting of writers, literature, actors, Chekhov and the arc of play development shows wit and subtle cleverness without pretension. His theme of fatal and eternal love is thrown on its head and given a new iteration. Coupled with elements from the plot of Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull and The Snow Queen (Hans Christen Andersen) and allusions from Shakespeare to William Faulkner to Joseph Heller, one receives an entertaining and playful examination of the male soul in the angst of love and self-loathing.
Indeed, McKinney reveals how one individual’s emotions and psyche become entangled in love and loss to the point of death. The production has the makings of an all-out hit. Judging by the audience response, it deserves a longer run. Indeed, it is much more compelling than a few other Off Broadway productions I’ve seen recently. Here’s why.
The ensemble’s work is seamless, believable and integrated in revealing the story of how Jeremy (an adorable, in the moment Dana Watkins as the pining, self-haunting lover) confronts his inner demon. Specifically, he learns to face his regret, grief and self-recriminations as he mourns the death of his fiancée, Kate (the excellent Elizabeth Inghram).
Inghram’s Kate is always mysterious and alluring as la belle dame sans merci (the beautiful woman without mercy, an archetype of the seducing, devouring muse and lover). Kate consumes Jeremy’s sleeping hours and continues their relationship in his being ethereally, though she has died in a car accident.
Theirs is a secret, spiritual continuation of their love relationship which McKinney leaves open to interpretation. Jeremy interacts with Kate in his dreams, however, he also has auditory and visual hallucinations of her that only he is able to experience. Have his regrets that he and Kate never married to her satisfaction, or that he wasn’t killed with Kate when she died in the accident driven him mad? Perhaps.
Or has the highly imaginative artistic side of Jeremy’s being allowed Kate’s spirit to entice him to her realms in the afterlife so that they might experience the fullness of their love? Perhaps. The plot deals with profound issues using generous dollops of logic and psychological justification. Add a spoonful of magical realism and stir these elements together, and what results is comedy and the gift of many moments of laughter. However, the play is complex for it is interlaced with a dark and dramatic thread of suicidal impulses which are symbolic yet real.
As the perfect foils to Jeremy and Kate’s eternal, undying (an irony) love are the characters of Chrissy and Eddie. Charlotte Stoiber rounds out the cast with enthusiasm and feistiness as Chrissy, Jeremy’s Chekhov acting partner and redeemer. Eddie (Christian Ryan’s portrayal is LOL priceless) is Jeremy’s libertine, sybaritic, brilliantly glib-talking and out of his mind brother who evicts Jeremy from his somnambulant lifestyle of dreams and brings him back to a healthy interaction with the world.
Finally, the master director and playwright Chekhov (Rik Walter in a droll and whimsical portrayal) shows up to provide clarity for Jeremy’s writing and is a portentous guide to interpret Jeremy’s unconscious desires toward life and death.
Leslie Kincaid Burby elucidates the production masterfully with enlightened interpretations, fine staging and specific, moment-to-moment direction. Clearly, the actors who shine throughout have been allowed free reign to enjoy and play with character identities. The design team Scott Aronow (scenic design), Diana Duecker (lighting), John McKinney (sound) and especially Christina Giannini’s costume design provide the perfect accompaniments to unravel the lighthearted tone and mysterious undercurrents of characterization and theme.
The Chekhov Dreams will not be in town very long which is a pity. There is one intermission. The production runs at The Beckett Theatre (410 W 42nd St) until 17 February
Photos: Arin Sang-urai