Here’s a version of Chekhov you’ve never seen before and won’t see again. The innovative Impro Theatre presents “Chekhov Unscripted” in repertory with “Twilight Zone Unscripted” to West Los Angeles’ Odyssey Theatre.
While most improvisational groups use theatre game techniques and some standard improv bits (“freezing” a scene mid-sentence and quick-changing characters, for example), in “Chekhov Unscripted” Impro Theatre works with the motifs, societal divisions and stock characters of a Chekhovian play.
We’re in a transitioning Russia with an upper-class landowner who can’t adapt to the times, his enduring wife, the pompous doctor, the wife’s spirited sister, the lovelorn interloper and the eccentric household staff.
With these in place, as all improvisational groups do, the actors ask for an audience suggestion about what the characters are looking at and some theme words. Interweaving these elements, a fully-costumed but completely unscripted Chekhovian play unfolds every night (and matinee).
At Sunday’s opening matinee, the audience suggested serfs in the field, money and hope. The funniest thing about these unscripted plays is that in real Chekhov not much happens and characters are often stymied by their circumstances. But the challenge of getting through two acts is embraced by the cast as they capture the language, the plot turns and verbal stylings of a Chekhov play such as “The Cherry Orchard” or “Uncle Vanya.”
The patriarch, Ivan Ivanovich, played by Dan O’Connor, inhabits the role of the landowner whose fortunes are dwindling and who does not understand how to embrace his inevitable future. Jo McGinley as the beautiful wife must contend with the crush artist Stepan Stepanovich (a hilarious Stephen Kearin) has on her (is she reciprocating or teasing?), while the doctor (Brian Lohmann), who delivers heavy-handed truisms, lusts after her as well. The wild unmarried sister, whose sympathies lie with the field serfs, appears obsessed with making hand-held sculptures out of the nails that are popping out of the crumbling estate. Will she and the doctor finally marry?
These touches and an amazing moment when a song, made up on the spot and completed by two actors simultaneously, made for both laughter and respect for the actors’ quick wits and solid understanding of the stereotypes they embody.
See a new play every time! “Chekhov Unscripted” and “Twilight Zone Unscripted” perform in repertory, Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. through Nov. 4. The Odyssey Theatre is located at 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., in West L.A. For reservations call (310) 477-2055 or visit www.OdysseyTheatre.com.
Speaking of Chekhov, don’t miss L.A. Theatre Works’ staged reading of “The Seagull,” performed by Calista Flockhart, T.R. Knight, Josh Stamberg (yes, public radio fans, he is Susan’s son!), Stephen Collins and Dakin Matthews, recorded live for broadcast on public radio stations at UCLA’s James Bridges Theatre.
“The Seagull” takes place Thursday, Sept. 20 at 8 p.m.; Friday, Sept. 21 at 8 p.m.; Saturday, Sept. 22 at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Sept. 23 at 4 p.m. The James Bridges Theater is located in Melnitz Hall on the campus of the UCLA School of Theater, Film, Television. For tickets and information, call (310) 827-0889 or visit www.latw.org.
What a view
The angst of youth and culture of celebrity are not the focus of Rogue Machine’s theatrical productions. Instead, they create serious, original, award-winning theatre featuring characters who live full lives, played by actors who’ve done the same.
Helping playwrights develop new works is one of Rogue Machine’s missions. Henry Murray is playwright in residence and one of several success stories. This is his third Rogue premiere, including “Treefall,” which was named by LA Weekly as one of 2009’s top 10 plays and has subsequently logged five national productions.
Dubbed a world co-premiere, “Three Views of the Same Object” was developed at Rogue Machine. The script won the Woodward/Newman Award for best play, which brought with it a fully-funded production mounted at the Bloomington Play Project in Indiana; it went on to win a Holland New Voices Award before being produced here by Rogue Machine.
“Three Views of the Same Object” unfolds in parallel time and space. Three actresses portray wife Jesse, two actors play husband Poppy, and one plays their loyal friend, Mrs. Widkin. Three different realities unfold, but in each of the simultaneously played-out storylines a single decision alters the relationship and the outcome.
The plot revolves around a suicide pact the couple made to avoid the indignities of aging at the end of life. But they’ve been thrown a curve ball, Poppy’s cancer, hastening the moment they must make a decision about honoring the pact.
It’s a complex play and a little confusing at first, until it becomes clear we are looking at contrasting versions of the same story. The solid maturity and professionalism of the actors help us move through these complications to a plane of deeper understanding.
“Three Views of the Same Object” takes place at Theatre/Theater, 5041 Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. on Sundays, through Oct. 28. Make reservations at www.roguemachinetheatre.com or call (822) 585-5185.
Thursday night stories
Tonight, Sept. 20, join the kickoff of SPARK, Santa Monica Rep’s new monthly storytelling initiative on the third Thursday of the month. In addition to nationally-recognized and SM Rep’s own homegrown storytellers, you’re invited to sign up to tell a true story of positive change; tonight’s theme is medical history. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. for sign-ups, live music and mingling; storytelling begins at 8 p.m. at the YWCA, 2019 14th St., in Santa Monica. Free admission, suggested donation. More info at www.storiesbloom.com/StoriesBloom/SPARK.html.
And this Friday, Santa Monica’s acclaimed City Garage opens in a new location, Building T1 at Bergamot Station, with the world premiere of Charles L. Mee’s “Orestes 3.0: Inferno,” a new take on Euripides’ ancient Greek tragedy of patricide, matricide and incest. Box office/information: (310) 319-9939 or www.citygarage.org. I’ll report on it next week.
Sarah A. Spitz is a former freelance arts producer for NPR and former staff producer at public radio station KCRW-Santa Monica. She reviews theatre for LAOpeningNights.com.