Theater review by Adam Feldman. Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater (see Off Broadway). By Richard Nelson. Dir. David Cromer. With Stephen Kunken, Michael Cerveris, John Glover. 2hrs 30mins. One intermission.
“This weekend is just for us, maestro,” explains Nikolai Nabokov (Kunken), composer and cultural liaison, to a visiting conductor, Serge Koussevitsky (Dale Place). “Only Russians. In the woods for one goddamn weekend! To forget where we are.” Where they are is America in 1948—on a farm in Connecticut, to be exact. Who they are is an enmeshed community of expat-Russian high-culture figures, most notably George Balanchine (Cerveris) and Igor Stravinsky (Glover). Richard Nelson’s nuanced drama imagines them and many more—including Stravinsky’s wife, Vera (Blair Brown), and her elderly first husband, set designer Sergey Sudeikin (a gorgeously decrepit Alvin Epstein)—on a kind of retreat to Moscow. Alone together, they converse in their native language and forget the Cold War politics in which their art is starting to play a role.
This exclusive, incestuous and insular group of friends has little interest in outsiders; when Balanchine’s bride and muse, ballerina Maria Tallchief (Natalia Alonso), arrives at the compound, they discuss her openly in Russian as she stands among them, poised and fuming. Nelson’s play, directed by David Cromer with his typically fine attention to detail, offers an intelligent, allusive portrait of their world, and its passages of dance (from Orpheus, performed by Alonso and Michael Rosen) are transfixing. But Nelson’s examination of art and the potential corruptions of patronage is subtle to a fault. Only Nikolai—valued as a fixer, but dismissed as an artist—is the object of sustained dramatic interest, while the others are sometimes hard to tell apart. The play rewards attention, but doesn’t consistently command it.—Adam Feldman
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