“Man in a Case”
by Irene Backalenick
First off, it’s BARYSHNIKOV! No matter what the show might be, that darling of the celebrity world, that star of ballet and the performing arts, now makes his appearance at the Hartford Stage. Never mind that Baryshnikov no longer takes those daring leaps into space. It’s BARYSHNIKOV!
But, as it happens, Mr. B. acquits himself well in a show which might reasonably be called a movement piece. “Man in a Case” is an 80-minute non-stop offering that makes its own leaps into the world of experimentation, using multi-media, sound and choreography to spell out the work. “Man in a Case” (followed by “About Love”) is an adaptation of two Chekhov short stories (courtesy of Annie-B Parson and Paul Lazar/Big Dance Theater). The pair also directs, with Parson providing choreography. The stories are set, as in many Chekhov stories, in two small Russian villages.
In the title piece Baryshnikov ironically plays a man who cannot dance, who is reluctantly drawn into village festivities, where he is the object of scorn and derision. He is an uptight village schoolteacher, concerned with proper, dignified behavior and with following the rules. The second piece concerns two star-crossed lovers, as the woman is married and unable to leave her husband. As the directors explain, the first piece deals with the story from the outside in and the other from the inside out. The first depicts a village scene, while the second examines the hearts of two lovers.
Baryshnikov gives a remarkable performance, creating his characters through body movement, particularly in the first story. He offers sharp contrast to Tymberly Canale, who plays a lively fetching girl in that piece. In all, he is supported by a gifted cast of dancer/players -- Jess Barbagallo, Chris Giarmo, and Aaron Mattocks.
The Big Dance Theater team is extraordinarily creative, constantly offering interaction between players, video screen, and sound, so that one never knows what to expect next. If theater is meant to shake up audiences, this group succeeds. In fact, one suspects that the best approach to “Man in a Case” is to return for a second viewing, giving oneself time to absorb the work.
This review also appears on nytheaterscene.com