I have detected at least three unofficial themes to Lincoln Center Theater's 2012-2013 season. The first is New York in the year 1937: both Golden Boyand The Nance unfold in that time and place. The second is Chekhov: Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike is directly inspired by the Russian author and Nikolai and the Others is atmospherically inspired by him. (It also features a scene in which George Balanchine talks about The Seagull.) Of course, you could say that the shadow of Chekhov hangs over almost every Western playwright of the past hundred years. But still.
And the third? It's less a theme than a happenstance. At every first preview of an LCT production this season I find myself walking through the lobby and overhearing Russians speaking Russian. At The Nance it was especially head-spinning to realize that Nathan Lane, the play's star, apparently is big among the Russian-billionaire-and-his-wife-wearing-Versace cohort. At this week's first preview of Nikolai, at the Mitzi E. Newhouse, the Russians I overheard were more about artistic dash than sartorial flash. In the lobby before the show and there again during intermission, I heard "Diaghalev" and "Nijinsky" and "Fokine" dropped into the Slavic chatter, which was also punctuated of course by "Stravinsky" and "Balanchine," who are characters in Richard Nelson's play.
At the post-performance cast-and-crew dinner across from Lincoln Center at P.J. Clarke's restaurant, Michael Cerveris, the actor portraying Balanchine, talked to me about his research into the choreographer and the way he conducted himself in the rehearsal room. "I found a lot of DVDs, one of which was footage of Balanchine and Stravinsky together that was very helpful. There are also a few YouTube videos that were useful. And working with people from New York City Ballet was invaluable." Cerveris has a connection to the company: his sister, Marisa Cerveris, was a longtime member of it, and was among the last group of artists who worked with Balanchine. I will explore the Cerveris/Balanchine connection in a future blog entry based on a more extensive interview with the actor.
The P.J. Clarke's dinner in general was alive with an atmosphere of celebration: the cast and crew have been putting in long hours to arrive at their first performance in front of a paying audience, and their sense of relief at having gotten through it without any major hitches was palpable. I must note, that in their choice of spirits not all actors were true to the Russian spirit of the play. Yes, there were vodka drinkers here and there, but I also noted a fair amount of Irish whiskey being consumed. Does this presage the theme of LCT's 2013-2014 season? Are revivals of Synge and O'Casey around the corner?
Brendan Lemon is the American theater critic for the Financial Times and the editor of lemonwade.com.