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THE CHEKHOV MACHINE

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A dying Chekhov, coughing up horrendous amounts of blood, is confronted, minutes before his death, by the characters he created in his plays. There is Konstantin (Dylan Maddalena) from The Seagull and his mother, Arkadina (a remarkable Faye Jackson). There's Lopakhin (Patrick Tuttle), who bought the cherry orchard and cut down all the trees to build housing estates; Firs (Alan Goodson), the old valet who was forgotten when the house in the orchard was shut down; Ranyevskaya (Melanie Chapman), whose loss of her orchard psychically wiped her out. From Three Sisters, there's Tusenbach (Benjamin Burdick); Solyony (Joseph Hulser); Chebutkin (Peter Vance); Olga (Elizabeth A. Griffin); Masha (Amelia Borella); and Irina (Kristin Mochnick). There's Uncle Vanya (Adrian Sparks) and Astrov (Aaron Lyons) from Uncle Vanya, and Ana Petrovna (Michelle Haner) and Lvov (Spencer Jones) from Ivanov. What, they want to know, did you do to us? Why couldn't you have given us something to believe in, something to look forward to? Most of these colorful characters are unhappy with what happened to them after their plays ended. Chekhov might have offered a reply, in Russian and akin to "I never promised you a rose garden."

In a swirling, funny, very human coming-together, using original Chekhov and inventive playwright Matei Visniec's dialogue, and the help of the talented director Florinal Fatulescu, Chekhov's familiar characters intermingle in a dance of destiny that provides them with the hope or closure they never got as characters in the plays of the most important playwright of the 19th century. Unlike most fictional characters, they get to talk back to their creator who, at his own uncomfortable end of tuberculosis at age 44, had still not learned how to communicate with his own feelings. Comedy or tragedy, consistency was the key, and the summing-up ventured here must come to the same conclusion.

The up-to-this-point terrific and amusingly cogent play might have been better served had the playwright and the director not contrived to provide a political coda that drags the play out beyond its logical conclusion with an endless monologue by Bobik (Weston Blakesley) that attempts to cover the history of Russia in half an hour, followed by a maudlin summing-up by Anya (Amanda Weier), which is mostly inaudible and pontifically boring.

"The Chekhov Machine," by and at the Open Fist Theatre, 1625 N. La Brea Ave., Hollywood. Fri.-Sat. 8 pm, Sun. 7 pm. Feb. 4-Mar. 5. $18; Sun. Pay what you can. (323) 882-6912.

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