Friday, November 28, 2008

Ivanov (The SOB Review)

Ivanov (The SOB Review) - Wyndham's Theatre, London, United Kingdom

**** (out of ****)

My recent experience of taking in the boring Broadway revival of Anton Chekhov's The Seagull notwithstanding, I was dreading seeing another of the playwright's works so soon after landing in London.

After all, I had very little sleep on the flight across the pond, and the idea of taking in any matinee one day after gave me tremendous pause. How on earth was I going to stay awake?

Fortunately, the Michael Grandage-helmed revival of Chekhov's Ivanov was so vibrant and alive with pleasure, brimming with dark humor throughout, that I found myself completely rapt with attention. With excellent new adaptation from Tom Stoppard, Ivanov soars higher than any seagull dares fly.

I'll go even further to say that boredom was never this much fun. Entertaining and enlightening, literally and figuratively (nicely underscored by Paule Constable's gorgeous lighting design), this play about the bored upper classes drew requisite comic relief for its allusions to our current financial doom and gloom.

Even better, Ivanov captures ballast from one of the year's best ensembles on either side of the Atlantic. Yes, today's contemporary Laurence Olivier Kenneth Branagh was absolutely brilliant in the title role, but this actor's actor clearly knows how to graciously share a stage. Chief among them is the breathtaking Gina McKee as Ivanov 's long-suffering, gravely ill wife Anna Petrovna. McKee turns in one of the year's most heartfelt performances, radiating enough warmth to melt the icy bitterness from any Russian town, past or present.

With uniformly scintillating performances from a sterling cast that doesn't take itself too seriously, there's no doubt why Donmar Warehouse's superb Ivanov is the West End's must-see sensation this fall.

Eat your heart out Ben Brantley -- this is the real deal. I can only hope this revival receives a Broadway transfer.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

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