Saturday, June 24, 2017

Nicky by Boni B. Alvarez – Inspired by Anton Chekhov’s Ivanoff

L - R Chris Aguila and Cyrus Wilcox

By Joe Straw

“I am a worthless, miserable, useless man.” – Ivanoff by Anton Tchekoff, Translated by Marian Fell

Coeurage Theatre Company presents Nicky by Boni B. Alvarez and directed by Beth Lopes at The Greenway Court Theatre located on the campus of Fairfax High School through July 1st, 2017.  Parking is free in the high school parking lot.

This is a wonderfully diverse cast and another impressive outing for the Coeurage Theatre Company.

Boni B. Alvarez has written an inspired adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s Ivanoff that is impressive in scope as well as including all of the Chekhovian angst.

The intimate setting is a Russian enclave in present day Palm Springs, instead of the province of central Russia.  The home is a vacation time-share with a small pool, surrounded and complimented with a desert rock garden. (Wonderfully designed by Scenic Designer Benoit Guérin.)

Nicky (Cyrus Wilcox) rests by the pool in a silent meditation far away from the internal madness that plagues his everyday life.   Anna (Sandy Velasco), his wife of five years, wails away in song at the other end of the house. There is a slight mood of repugnance in Nicky’s demeanor at every cross note.   

Sandy Velasco and Ted Barton

Anna is from the Philippines, and sings with a heavy Tagalog accent.  Matthew (Ted Barton), the Count, listens politely as he plucks threads from the linen bed sheets.  Every sound she makes causes her husband, at the other end of the house, to wince in discomfort.  

She, one who is dying of cancer, softly pads the floor.

There is little that Nicky can do other than to stroke his heavy beard and remind himself that quicker is better. The marriage has not been fruitful, in more ways than one. She is a lofty distraction from what Nicky has on his mind—a failing computer business, too little money, and too much debt.

To top it off, pesky alcoholic Misha (Jeremy Lelliott), his business manager, is constantly asking for money from his already empty pockets. Misha is Nicky’s distant relative and he operates as though the money and drinks flows continuously like a running stream.  Such is not the case.  

Softly and on quiet toes, Dr. Lalwah (Nardeep Khurmi) is a nagging persistent sore on Nicky’s emotional backside, hanging around the house, and waiting for Anna’s test results, which they know will not be good.   Nicky probably sees the doctor as another expenditure, another hole in life’s trousers.   

Anna continues to sing, “You light Up My Life” as Nicky falls deeper into a depression as he sits by the pool.

Dr. Lalwah examines Anna, takes her temperature, and tells her that she must eat.  He recognizes Anna is not doing well and suggests to Nicky that she leaves the harshness that is Palm Springs.

“She has stage 4 cancer.” – Dr. Lalwali

Dr. Lalwali enters her bedroom with a cup of tea for Anna.  Anna, anticipating a party on this night, tries on dresses in front of her doctor who, with slight embarrassment, turns away.  She appears to have a wig to cover the ravages of chemotherapy.  She wants to go to the party but the doctor suggests she stay home; besides he tells her that her husband doesn’t care for her.

Anna confides to the doctor that she wants to go back to the Philippines to her mother and father.  Her emotions get the better of her and she opts out of the party.

“Bring me a cognac.” – Anna

Meanwhile, the birthday party is in full swing, sans Sasha (Chris Aguila), the birthday boy, who has just turned twenty-one. Sasha’s father Pavel (Daniel Kaemon) proudly tells the guests that he is waiting for his “gay son” to arrive.   

Pavel’s penny-pinching wife, Zina (Emily Swallow), is very concerned about the amount of food being served and the amount of liquor being consumed. Zina emphatically makes her point to the frustrated Latina maid, Gisela (Caro Zeller), about the amount of food and drink each person should get.  

Everyone is ready for Sasha, the birthday boy, to arrive.  Julian (Jaime Barcelon), Renee (Taylor Hawthorne), and Bryce (Mark Jacobson), friends of Sasha, are baking in the afternoon sun and waiting.  Martha (Alexis Genya) and Aurora (Julia Silverman), a retired matchmaker, take their place at the table until the show arrives.

If you are interested in seeing this wonderful production, don’t read any further. 

Beth Lopes, the director, employs some very interesting moments especially during the party scene where one could envision Stanislavsky himself directing.  But, as to the guests, one wonders how the characters will lead us to the dramatic conclusion. (In the Chekhov version, Ivanoff takes a gun to his head.) Every character must move Nicky toward a conclusion, whether they aware of it or not.  And, if they do, Nicky must be a party to all of those observations, even the ones not directly related to him. This includes the Count and his friend, the gay friends, Nicky’s own ambiguous leanings, the Asian friend who’s quite capable of to making money, the characters that drag him down with more money concerns, etc.,

Chris Aguila is Sasha, a very young gay man who comes on too strong to his amour.  In his initial meeting, he is inebriated and throws himself onto his love almost like a cat that needs undivided attention.  It is an affair in which the younger man appears older and wiser.  How does this work to get the characters to the end of the play? 

Jaime Barcelon presents an impressive figure as Julian, a man who adapts to the circumstances around him. Julian keeps his eyes and ears open for the next opportunity that will work to his benefit. Nicely done.

Ted Barton is the Count Matthew, complete with Russian accent. Barton is marvelous in the role as a man who has adapted to being alone but is always in the mix when others need his limited help and soft expertise. Barton is one of the finest actors working in Los Angeles these days.

Alexis Genya is Martha, a woman who wants love, in all the wrong places.  Martha is beyond her prime but is still hopeful, if she could get others to reconcile to her physical and emotional demands. Genya is outstanding on the stage.

Julia Silverman is Aurora, the retired matchmaker who is also beyond her prime and resides herself to playing solitaire.  She is made aware there are other pairs of customers (gay ones) who may need her professional services.  A spark has been ignited and a warm glow permeates her body.  It’s time to get to work. If this is the case, how do these actions contribute to the major through line of the play?  (Also, as an aside, one thinks this character should be dressed in colorful apparel to give her uniqueness and a bright spot in a room filled with characters raging in impotent despair.)

Taylor Hawthorne is Renee and has a very good look on stage.  Sadly she is just another character that contributes little to the end of the play. It is a role that needs more substance in the final direction.  Still, Hawthorne has a nice presence and that is half the battle.

Mark Jacobson is Bryce, a gay man, who is there for an unknown reason.  He is a friend.  But what does this friend do?   Where does it lead? Jacobson is an actor that I have seen over the years and his craft is getting stronger, his characters are more developed, and the mannerism specific. But, where is he going with this character?

Emily Swallow and Daniel Kaemon

Daniel Kaemon is Pavel, a loving father and a man with many secrets.  Kaemon does a tremendous job in the role, which is a very loving man to friend and family alike.  He is a man who will do anything for anyone in trouble.

Nardeep Khurmi is Doctor Lalwali.  To make this role truly work, Lalwali must present an overabundant love for the patient. It is his reason for being at the house, all the time.  The role needs more layers to give it definition. This doctor should not leave the room of the patient without having some kind of an emotional breakdown, simply out of love. Every moment should be cherished to show her husband what real love is all about.  I don’t think we got that.

Jeremy Lelliott is funny as Misha.  Misha drinks, a lot. Can anyone take him seriously when he speaks of taking money from someone and turning it into a lot of money?  He is literally the class money clown.  But, how does these actions contribute to the ending?  

Emily Swallow is Zina and possibly younger than what I imagined the character to be.  Nevertheless, she does an outstanding job in the way she demands money from Nicky not once but rather repeatedly.  This is the character who unwittingly and figuratively not only sticks the knife in but, whether she understands it or not, turns it slowly. There is something not right in her relationship with her son who seems only to be an odd accouterment to her life.

Sandy Velasco does some amazing work as Anna.   Her voice is clear and her craft displays unusual qualities that were riveting when she spoke of her family and her life.

Cyrus Wilcox is Nicky and has a very nice presence on stage. One would have like to have seen him without the beard to get the soul of the character and to see his face.  There is much to be said about the accumulation of events and how those events contribute to the ending. Each event is a weighty brick on his shoulders and we should see those bricks accumulate until the very end. There must be a better choice for the opening that introduces the man in action rather than lounging in a chair by the pool. Also, the first time he sees Sasha should be the first time Nicky sees him in that way.  This moment should play out better and we should get that connection.  The fact that Sasha is a man in this play should not make a big difference to someone who really falls in love. We get the impalpable grayness of his character but we really need to see a man trying to find his way out.

Caro Zeller is very feisty and funny as the Latina maid Gabriela. There is a connection between Gabriela and Nicky but I did not see it on this night.

Boni B. Alvarez has written a modern day prodigious adaptation of Chekov’s Ivanoff.  There is enough of the play still in this version so the play doesn’t stray too far from Chekov’s intention. In this version it appears that everyone is trying to help Nicky, but Nicky’s introspection leads him down a narrow hole, unable to crawl out, and the rain is starting to fall. And although the performances rang true, the dots, mostly character actions, were not connected with a strong through line to the finish. Those events leading to the ending is an accumulation of events that must be accentuated for the audience to get the full effect. 

The ending in this version is silent, unexpected, and Nicky is alone.  Chekov pronounces his ending with full dramatic effect as a counterweight to life’s mundane actions.   

There is a list of alternates that did not perform on the night I was there.  They are as follows:

Ron Bottitta – Matthew
Chelsea Boyd – Renee
Leona Britton – Martha/Aurora
Julia Fisher – Zina
Kevin Gottlieb – Pavel
Craig Jorczak – Bryce/Sasha
Shawn Kathryn Kane – Anna
Gio Munguia – Misha
Marta Portillo – Gisela
David Tran – Julian
Ryan Patrick Welsh – Nicky

Members of the crew are as follows:

Summer Grubaugh – Stage Manager
Melissa Pryor – Assistant Director
Benoît Guérin – Scenic Design
Azra King-Adbadi – Lighting Design
Michelle Stann – Sound Design
Karen Fix Curry – Costume Design
Sammi Smith – Prop Design
Caitlin Muelder – Dialect Coach
John Klopping – Production Photographer
Ken Werther Publicity – Press Representative

Run! Run! Run! And take someone who is off his or her depression medication and now needs a dose of Chekov.

 (323) 673-0544


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