Adapted byDavid Hare
directed byGerald Gutierrez
Lincoln Center Theater's thirteenth season began in October of 1997 at the Vivian Beaumont Theater with a new, exuberant, full-blooded version of IVANOV. This early, neglected play by Anton Chekhov was adapted by David Hare (the author of Skylight and Racing Demon) for the Almeida Theatre Company in London, where it was presented to great acclaim the previous winter. LCT did their own production later that year, staged by LCT Associate Director Gerald Gutierrez and starring Kevin Kline in the title role. We didn't want to make too much of this, but IVANOV—which is pronounced "ee-VAHN-off", by the way—was the first world classic we had done in many years. In part, we waited until the right director and the right leading actor were available. We feel lucky to have had Gerry and Kevin at the core of this production. IVANOV is not well-known here; the last major New York production—with John Gielgud and Vivian Leigh—was in 1967. And we think audiences will be surprised by it. The play was written as a traditional 19th-century Russian melodrama, which typically had a big, meaty central role. Chekhov supplies one with Ivanov, a Russian landowner who is deep in debt and self-doubt. He has fallen out of love with his ailing Jewish wife (the play deals vividly with Russian anti-Semitism) and he is overwhelmed by feelings that he cannot extricate himself from a life gone terribly wrong. Though this is an early work of Chekhov's (it was his first produced full-length play), one can already recognize some themes from his later plays: the constraints of everyday life and the hunger for escape; intellectual and financial poverty; the aftermath of drinking and illness; and a self-righteous doctor (a stand-in for Chekhov) to comment on the other characters. Nonetheless, IVANOV is different than his better-known dramas Uncle Vanya or Three Sisters: it is not infused with the melancholy of the later plays and contains very little sense of nostalgia. IVANOV is a rollercoaster ride of playing styles as scenes veer from low farce to high drama and back again. Actually, it is really like a passionate, terribly funny Ibsen play. It's also a bit like Hamlet in that Chekhov's eponymous hero is a brooding, tortured soul. But unlike Hamlet (whose name he invokes several times throughout the play), Ivanov remains in the grip of a profound inertia, seemingly incapable of taking action. If Ivanov the character is hopelessly depressed, IVANOV the play is anything but depressing. Chekhov's dazzling mix of comedy, satire, and psychological drama makes for a revelatory evening of theater.