Within an intimate courtyard setting, in the pinkish evening light, Arroyo Repertory presents one of Chekhov's lesser-known works. A comedy with a happy ending, this play is the forerunner of his masterpiece Uncle Vanya, but this production, adapted by "the ensemble," finds little of interest in this interesting text. From the first entrances of the characters, fussing and bumbling, we are taken into a presentational, self-consciously theatrical world. The actors speak in loud voices with overwrought diction, they—mostly the men—wear lots and lots of stage makeup, and they are always "on," always showing us what they are feeling with broad gestures and large, demonstrative expressions.
Ostensibly in an attempt to lighten up Chekhov, director Jude Lucas has pushed the text into a campy, almost vaudevillian style. Truthful moments become blunted under this candy coating, and the play never fully comes into focus. The women seem to giggle unendingly, and the stage is busy with bits and little whispered faux scenes that distract from the main dialogue.
While no one escapes the presentational tone, some actors find life amid the fluff. As Sofya, Tara Howley Hudson has an expressive face and an appealing air, though her character crosses willy-nilly over the line between period and modern. Amy Rutledge as Yelena creates a lively portrait of a pretty girl trapped in the doldrums; she is reminiscent of a Malibu beauty stuck on a Kansas farm. Tom Vick plays Yegor Voynitsky with a loose physical manner that drips of sarcasm. As the Wood Demon, Doug Rynerson has rousing moments, speaking passionately about nature.
The beautiful courtyard setting provides some refreshing theatrical opportunities, as when the characters challenge one another to a game of croquet, which we later see played out in the moonlit distance. The set, by Tom Price and Charli Salisbury, makes good use of the narrow space, and Lucas, serving also as costumer, creates some fun and fussy outfits for the ladies to work in. Rynerson's lighting is clean and warm, complementing perfectly the evening's lovely glow and transitioning seamlessly as the sunlight fades and stars appear.
"The Wood Demon," presented by Arroyo Repertory Theatre at the Courtyard Theatre at St. James United Methodist Church, 2033 E. Washington Blvd., Pasadena. Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 7 p.m. June 29-Aug. 3. $18. (626) 398-6522.