Williamstown Theatre, Williamstown, MA
through August 19, 2012
by Walter Haggerty
A very deep bow is owed to Richard Nelson, Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky for their vibrant and lucid translation of Ivan Turgenev’s 19th century Russian masterpiece “A Month in the Country.” Williamstown Theatre Festival, with Nelson’s masterful direction, has given this comedy-drama new and exciting life. Last seen at Williamstown in 1978, this 2012 production is staged in a vastly different and stimulating manner.
Taking a page from the legendary director Stanislavski, Nelson has presented the story with great simplicity, virtually scenery-less, with only basic, essential furnishings. On a thrust platform, extending into the auditorium, the capacity audience, seated on three sides, is all but enveloped within the production – and responds with rapt attention.
The cast delivers an ensemble performance that matches the best of British repertory companies. In the most demanding assignment, Jessica Collins delivers an extraordinary, bravura performance as Natalyla (Natasha), convincingly managing instantaneous mood swings from deep depression to almost juvenile silliness – all brilliantly. Charlotte Bydevell, as the ward of Natalya and her husband, transitions from an immature 17-year old to a jealous young woman ready to fight for young love.
As a “friend of the house,” Jeremy Strong’s Mikhail Rakitin contributes loyalty, dedication, understanding and sympathy while subverting his own love. The young tutor, Alexei, played by Julian Cihi, and the subject of Natalya’s infatuation, has the difficult task of maintaining an air of naiveté, until finally confronting reality.
Louis Cancelmi as Arkady Islaev, Natalya’s husband and wealthy landowner, is first constrained in demonstrating his deep love for his wife, until the point when his caring character is clearly and convincingly defined. Sean Cullen, as a doctor, dispenses friendship and advice with sardonic humor. As a wealthy neighbor with an inability to approach women, Paul Anthony McGrave creates an indelible cameo, generously embellished with humor.
Others in the smaller roles are Kate Kearney, Elizabeth Waterson,Parker Bell and Harry Ford – all contribute brief but important moments to this amazingly rewarding production.
To see a rarely performed classic in an exhilarating new translation and dynamic presentation, “A Month in the Country” should not be missed.