Presented by and at the Mint Theater Company, 311 W. 43rd St., NYC, Aug. 2–Sept. 4.
Director Jonathan Bank has performed a marvelous feat of resuscitation on Anton Chekhov's rarely staged first full-length play, "Ivanov." Using a light touch, he gives the play a consistent tone and swift pace that bring out the comedy inherent in Chekhov's drama. Using an adaptation of Paul Schmidt's translation and performed in modern dress, the National Asian American Theater Company production defies the fact that the play was written in 1887.
Using themes and characters that would recur in his major plays, Chekhov sets "Ivanov" in the provinces of central Russia. The title character is a government official beset by money problems, his wife's terminal illness, and his own melancholy. Like Hamlet, whom he invokes, Ivanov is in mourning for his life. He has also been smitten with Sasha, the 20-year-old daughter of his neighbor Lebedev. In typically Chekhovian fashion, Ivanov is surrounded by all sorts of parasites and local eccentrics.
The production's one flaw is that Bank has not been able to solve entirely the problem of the lugubrious and disagreeable antihero. Joel de la Fuente makes Ivanov interesting but does not make us care about him. As Sasha, who Ivanov thinks will save him, Michi Barall grows up before our eyes, from lovesick schoolgirl to mature woman. Deepti Gupta is luminous as Ivanov's dying wife, who worships her straying husband.
The remaining characters are preoccupied with their own petty problems. C.S. Lee is amusing as Ivanov's neighbor, who is afraid of his own wife. Orville Mendoza makes Borkin, Ivanov's estate manager, a comic buffoon. Mel Duane Gionson is perfect as the bore who talks only about card playing. Arthur Acuña's doctor is Chekhov's first example of the dangers of honesty. The stylized set by Sarah Lambert works beautifully for both a greenhouse and a study.