Stephanie Mumford’s adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s short story, The Lady With the Little Dog—now at the Quotidian Theatre Company—is a stunning tribute to the literary classic and as faithful to its original as if it were an elaborately staged reading.
And indeed, this Lady—true to her origins—is, in some ways, more like a story-teller’s narrative than a drama. Yet it’s also a reflection of Quotidian’s aims. This production is a celebration of daily life and its unexpected moments of beauty.
All five of the characters step off the printed page, forming a series of shimmering tableaux as they come to life against a photo-montage of paintings and black and white film and move within a set that recreates a seaside resort, a popular café, a promenade, a provincial theatre, an elegant private home in Moscow and a series of hotels.
The story, for those who last read it in high school, is deceptively simple. A philandering husband and an unhappily married woman meet in Yalta—then, as now, a popular resort on the Black Sea—and enjoy what ought to be a fleeting affair. The year is 1901 and Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina is all the rage.
But when they return to their boring marriages—his in Moscow and hers in the town of Saratov—they discover that without each other, life is scarcely bearable.
Chelsea Mayo plays the 22-year-old woman, Anna Sergeyevna, with an austerity that communicates her honesty and pain. Her charm, especially when cooing to the invisible dog, is endearing, as is her yearning for a more meaningful life and her shame at being considered immoral.
Ian Blackwell Rogers is Anna’s suitor, the rakish Dmitry Gurov, who has abandoned his early dreams for the promise of respectability and security. He has a wife whom he detests and three children who are about as real as the cardboard cutouts that represent them.
A bit of a dandy at first, boasting of his conquests—displayed in a wonderful photo montage in which a quartet of young women morphs into hundreds of blurry faces—Gurov is as shocked as anyone when he finds that he cannot live without Anna.
Violinist Christine Kharazian and Pianist Zachary Roberts provide the musical accompaniment—playing passionate renditions of the great Russian classics, lyrical and sad—while also portraying the detested spouses. Both are wildly funny stereotypes.
Kharazian, making her dramatic debut, displays a wickedly comic skill as she plays a pseudo-intellectual who prides herself on reading the latest novels. She also studiously scrapes at the violin, making hideous sounds that belie her very real talent on the instrument.
Roberts is a pompous fool, proud of his job as a minor bureacrat in a government agency whose name and function Anna cannot remember.
But the hero of this lovely tale is Chekhov himself. Played by David Dubov, the author laughs out loud as he moves his characters back and forth, tells them what to say and do, and occasionally even inserting himself into the action. He is deliciously warm and alive, jotting down lines of the story and then narrating them with great satisfaction and joy.
Lighting Designer Don Slater, Sound Designer Ed Moser, and Stage Manager Lynda Bruce-Lewis all contribute to the effectiveness of this quiet drama, which plays out over a period of months and moves back and forth beween far-off locations. Some of the most riveting scenes, such as the one in the theatre in Saratov, are created through light.
The set, by Stephanie Mumford, is an elaborate construction of windows and walls, steps and rooms, furnished with exquisite detail. The props are meticulously chosen. Mum
For example, the book that Gurov is reading as he begins to long for Anna is actually Anna Karenina. In Russian!
Stephanie Mumford—who not only adapted the play but also serves as its director and costume, properties and set designer—pointed out to me that inside the hotel room, hidden on a wall that’s unseen by the audience, is a portrait of Czar Nicholas II.
It’s this kind of versimilitude that makes Mumford—who co-founded the Quotidian Theatre Company with Artistic Director Jack Sbarbori just 18 years ago—one of Washington’s leading interpreters of Chekhov. This is her second adaptation of a Chekhov story. She has also directed and performed in all the playwright’s best-known plays.
The Lady With the Little Dog is a jewel of a production, perfect for anyone who loves language and relishes the transmutation of print into personalities on a stage.
Running Time: 60 minutes, with no intermission.
The Lady With the Little Dog plays through August 7, 2016 at Quotidian Theatre Company performing at The Writer’s Center – 4508 Walsh Street, in Bethesda, MD. For tickets, call the box office (301) 816-1023, or purchase them online.