Want to spend an hour in a cramped compartment as a sweaty, misogynistic boor rants at you? No, they’re not hiring at The Rush Limbaugh Show; the gentlemen in question is Pozdynyshev, a smugly cynical Muscovite who regales his railway companions (us) with the sordid, downward course of his marriage. Based on a sensational yet moralizing 1889 novella by Tolstoy, The Kreutzer Sonata comes to La MaMa by way of London’s intimate Gate Theatre, a monologue with music that makes for a diverting tour through the male mind riven by lust, disgust and guilt.
Thin-lipped, beady-eyed and suavely contemptuous, Hilton McRae is our somewhat-reliable narrator, a blowhard with a weakness for gender essentialism: “All women want a mate.” “Women understand money.” “Women always prefer eggs sunny-side up.” (I made that last one up.) Pozdynyshev fashions himself an expert on the ladies—having bedded scads of them before meeting the pretty young virgin (Sophie Scott) he married, impregnated five times and quickly grew to loathe. When his piano-playing wife shows interest in partnering with Pozdynyshev’s violinist friend, Trukhachevski (Tobias Beer), our puritanical satyr finds himself both wracked with homicidal jealousy and confirmed in his low opinion of humanity. Music, to him, is metaphor and prelude for carnal, unlawful debasement.
This stew of Dostoyevskian angst and Tolstoyan preachiness—tautly scripted by Nancy Harris and staged with multimedia accents by Natalie Abrahami—doesn’t exactly rock you with surprises. Early foreshadowing makes it clear that the affair will end in blood and tears. And Tolstoy was not the most coherent proponent of moral philosophy. But McRae is amusingly arch, so this garrulous fellow traveler doesn’t grow too tedious.—David Cote