“Man in a Case” with Baryshnikov at Hartford Stage
By Tom Holehan
“Man in a Case”, the world premiere currently on the boards at Hartford Stage, offers Anton Chekhov, dance, film, music, state-of-the-art multi-media technology and Mikhail Baryshnikov all in one package. It is also delivered without intermission in one act under 90 minutes. This may be the ultimate bang-for-your-buck theatrical experience this season. Based on two short stories by Anton Chekhov, “Man in a Case” is a fascinating stage oddity; not quite a play, not quite a dance piece. For the adventurous theatergoer, however, it is a memorable experience.
Baryshnikov takes center stage in both stories which fit the famed dancer/choreographer like a pair of tights. In one, he is an anti-social Russian businessman who suddenly becomes enthralled with his exact opposite: a life-affirming, gregarious woman. In the next story, brimming over with the type of moral ambiguity of which Chekhov is a master, Baryshnikov’s character falls for a married woman. As usual, Chekhov infuses his tale with bitter poignancy, humor and conflicting motivations. In both, Baryshnikov uses his melodious voice and still firm and flexible body to expert advantage. His movements are fluid and meaningful. It’s a wonderful performance.
Adapted and directed by Annie-B Parson and Paul Lazar in conjunction with their Big Dance Theater and choreographed by Ms. Parson, “Man in a Case” makes thrilling use of sound, light and video technology throughout its briskly paced running time. Jennifer Tipton’s lighting infuses the stories with a magical element and Tei Blow’s astonishing sound design becomes a character in itself; very specific and haunting. Best of all may be Jeff Larson’s video design which runs mini-movies on a screen, a door or a tablecloth making them an organic part of the action and giving remarkable visual enhancement to Chekhov’s melancholy stories.
The sturdy and versatile supporting cast behind Baryshnikov includes Jess Barbagallo, Chris Giarmo, Tymberly Canale and Aaron Mattocks who portray multiple characters and seldom leave the stage. “Man in a Case” is an unusual theatre piece that doesn’t really qualify as a play and may be a stretch in the storytelling department even at 90 minutes. Still, there is much to recommend at Hartford Stage and this world premiere is something worth seeing. And talking about.
“Man in a Case” continues at Hartford Stage through March 24. For further information and ticket reservations call the theatre box office at 860.527.5151 or visit: www.hartfordstage.org.
Tom Holehan is one of the founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: email@example.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.