If boredom is the root of all evil, as Søren Kierkegaard suggested, then Anton Chekhov’s Ivanov could serve as Exhibit A for his case. The brooding, self-loathing antihero of Chekhov’s 1887 character study is driven to despair by inaction—or is it the reverse? At home, Ivanov (Ethan Hawke) lives with a wife he no longer loves, the consumptive Anna (Joely Richardson), whom he treats cruelly; he escapes when he can to the parlor of his bibulous friend Lebedev (Austin Pendleton, a master noodler), where idle chatter and dull bridge games pass for living. “The air is thick with boredom!” declares Lebedev’s young daughter, Sasha (the excellent Juliet Rylance, radiant with energetic decency). Pendleton, who also directs this Classic Stage Company revival, wants us to breathe this atmosphere deeply.
The first half of his production is positively soporific, and as hard as this can be on the audience, it conveys the suffocation that leaves Ivanov gasping for the renewal that Sasha’s romantic ardor might represent. The dour, self-righteous doctor Lvov (Jonathan Marc Sherman) diagnoses him as a narcissist, which he may be, and a con man, which he is not. A con man has purpose; Ivanov begins both acts asleep onstage, but he’s restless and dreamless. Ragged-voiced and wasting-cheeked, Hawke writhes with the futile discontent of a man who knows the hollowness of his own fading charms. As his depression turns to guilt-ridden mania, the production enacts a violent shift on the ground laid by such older characters as Lebedev’s stingy wife (Roberta Maxwell) and Ivanov’s enervating uncle (George Morfogen). If you can stick it out, Ivanov eventually bores into you.—Adam Feldman
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