One of Chekhov’s earliest, lesser-known works, bleak domestic drama Ivanov gets a sharply insightful treatment by Moscow-based company Theatre of Nations. It’s a taut three hours of absorbing angst, performed in the original Russian with some occasionally clunky English surtitles.
Director Timofey Kulyabin stages it with impressive precision, ensuring that every glance and gesture adds to the story, communicating a wealth of compassion, familiarity, grief, and frustration. Menace and melancholy seethe under the surface of every tense, circular conversation about love, money, and the lack of either.
Among an excellent, committed cast, Alexander Novin stands out as unpredictable hustler Borkin, spinning out increasingly unlikely get-rich-quick-schemes as he tries to dig his family out of debt. Chulpan Khamatova is full of warmth and frailty as terminally ill Sarah, clinging desperately to the love she still feels for her all-but-unfaithful husband.
Opposite her, Evgeny Mironov’s Ivanov is a wrenchingly unhappy figure, consumed by self-loathing, lashing out at anyone who tries to help him. Striking stage pictures see him repeatedly isolated and humiliated – picking up pieces of shattered plates, sitting alone at a banquet table holding a sparkler and wearing a pair of false horns.
Oleg Golovko’s elaborate sets bring a modern aesthetic to the production, cross-sections of cramped office buildings and cheap housing implying the threat of poverty pressing in on the characters. Owls appear as a recurring motif, a reminder of the inescapable pain Sarah describes as a screeching in her head.