A matchless, hypnotic portrait of love. A seductive vision of two lives tangled up in blues with too many tough nights apart as each knows “I have no will of my own.”
Are the two people on stage up for the “complex, tangled business” that marriage and working together can become? Let alone in the face of hard times and distances? Take in the transfixing, exceptional two-actor production I Take Your Hand in Mine to decide the truth for yourself.
But hurry. I Take Your Hand in Mine is having only a short run at the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop presented by DC’s Taffety Punk Theatre Company along with Canada’s Chekhov Collective in collaboration with Theatrus.
I Take Your Hand in Mine was developed by playwright Carol Rocamora. She used recently translated into English over 400 letters between playwright Anton Chekhov and Olga Knipper, his lover, wife, muse and leading actor interpreting his works. With the crisp direction of Dmitry Zhukovsky, the production is a tightly woven tapestry covering nearly six years (1899-1904) in the ardent relationship between Chekhov and Knipper.
In a key program note, director Zhukovsky wrote that “working on the show we wanted to be truthful to Chekhov’s poetry, where the most important and interesting things happen not in the words but in-between them.” With the captivating cast of Rena Polley as Olga Knipper and Richard Sheridan Willis as Anton Chekhov, the beauty of the words were indeed surrounded and up-lifted by silences as reactions of two people who know each other so well.
Polley and Willis are naturalistic, subtle actors. More often than not, Polley as Knipper is the bold and dramatic presence. She also has such delightful skills as a seductive individual beckoning Willis as Chekhov. As for Willis, he often displays a most bemused aura in his verbal and visual exchanges with Polley. It is as if she is the best thing that ever happened to him, and he can’t quite believe his good fortune. But for those who know the real story of Chekhov, there will be plenty of darkness to encounter.
The witty banter and physical “presence” of Polley and Willis is like being at a small dinner party observing a long-married couple who still love to safely tease each other, showing their true colors as they bring an awakening of the heart and soul, and plenty more. They both keep each other on their toes.
But now I am not going to write any more specifics or historical notes about Chekhov and Knipper. Why? Because that would make I Take Your Hand in Mine something only for those of us who are theater geeks. Those that know, by heart, The Seagull, Uncle Vanya (1899), The Three Sisters (1901), and The Cherry Orchard (1904). That could likely reduce those who might take in this nifty production. So, let me move away from being an “all-in” advocate for Chekhov.
Let’s interest others too: everyday people who may not know or care that Chekhov died at 44 and Knipper lived into her 80’s, never to remarry. Let’s interest regular folk of the right-now, who have wondered out loud words with their own loved-one similar to Chekhov and Knipper: “Do you still love me?” or “I’m ashamed to call myself your wife,” or “I am dried out,” or “answer me truthfully, no jokes.”
There were any number of scenes and exchanges that had me think of sensual poetry. No, not the kind with naughty words. In particular, I was reminded of one short sensual poem by DC-based poet E. Ethelbert Miller, who I have admired for years: “Like the second letter in the word love/your lips shape the air I breathe.”
In the small space that is the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop, the production’s scenic design (no credit listed in the program) provides all that is needed to match the intimacy of the script and acting. A few movable chairs, earthy tone subdued clothing for each character. A white-painted back wall becomes a place for movements, faces, and posture to stand out.
I Take Your Hand in Mine is a lovely confessional about real people who happen to have been very famous. It was a treasure trove of power-sharing between two actors that led me to lean way forward in my seat. As I looked around, I was not the only one.
Do try to become one of the beholders of I Take Your Hand in Mine. In these days of big, bigger, and biggest, it is a lovely sparkly jewel.