'Man in a Case' -- Hartford Stage
By Marlene S. Gaylinn
As I thought about the two theatre performances I saw last weekend, I began to recognize the similarities between Hartford Stage’s World Premiere of “Man in a Case,” based on Anton Chekhov’s 1898 short stories, and Igor Stravinsky’s 1913 “Rite of Spring,” another first, which was presented at the State University of New York (SUNY) Center for the Performing Arts at Purchase, New York. Each production was based on Russian works. Each piece was produced in cutting-edge, multi-media form via a collaborating team of Americans. And, each performance suffered the same problems -- too many distractions.
Hartford Stage’s “Man in a Case,” produced by Mikhail Baryshnikov, and adapted and directed by Annie-B Parson and Paul Lazar/Big Dance Theatre, is a collaboration of: producers, directors, stage technicians, actors and dancers.
The reworking of two short stories by Anton Chekhov, and featuring Baryshnikov, are about unrequited love. If you can follow the action without distraction, “Man in a Case,’ concerns a professor who is so uptight about conforming to rules and regulations that he cannot function as a normal human being. When he tries to socialize in order to get married, he freezes up, is ridiculed, and the episode turns into a fatal disaster. “About Love,” portrays another hapless man who is involved with a married woman. Like many of Chekhov’s writings, neither story has a happy ending.
Those who remember Baryshnikov as the great Russian ballet soloist and expect to be wowed again by his on-stage presence might be disappointed. At age 65, the dancer, who is small in stature in regular men’s clothing, has turned to acting and producing experimental theatre. The only dancing he does here, if you can call it that, is gracefully fall down a flight of steep stairs accompanied by strobe lights. Otherwise, he mainly performs pantomime and rolls a bit on the floor. Because of his stiff, character role in “Man In a Case,” Baryshnikov even refrains from folk-dancing with the vivacious, Tymberly Canale, of Big Dance Theatre -- which is a let down. But what’s really shocking to our image of this refined, classical dancer is the repeated use of the F word. Spoken with a Russian accent, it sounds like “clock.” The former dancer, who has a measured way of speaking and a hard “s” at the end of certain words, is fine playing the Russian that he is, but he’s totally out of place when reciting Americanized dialogue.
“Man in a Case” is presented as if it’s a rehearsal. The creative team sits at a long table while the actors periodically stop to interact with the group. Multiple TV monitors, situated on walls and under tables reveal each scene from various angles. Film footage interacts with the performers while music and lights further disturb the senses. If you don’t sit close enough, it’s hard to digest the projected images. When focus on the play is lost, the result is simply an exercise in innovative technology. “Man in a Case” is an 80-minutes long, non-traditional, fractured production. Multi-media addicts and experimental theatre buffs will probably enjoy it most.
Plays through March 24