THE BLOG

Chekhov and Beckett Grace Los Angeles Stages

03/27/2012 09:18 am ET | Updated May 27, 2012
  • Hoyt Hilsman Author, journalist and former Congressional candidate

One of the most difficult emotions to portray onstage is boredom. And yet boredom -- or world-weariness -- is as complex as any human emotion. It mixes elements of anxiety, fear, depression and longing into an existential theatrical stew that is rarely attempted by dramatic writers, and usually with very little success. Two outstanding exceptions are the work of Anton Chekhov and Samuel Beckett, which are now gracing the stages of Los Angeles in a couple of wonderful productions.

In a memorable production of Chekhov's The Seagull, presented by the Antaeus Company, a marvelous ensemble of classical actors based in LA, director Andrew J. Traister captures the brilliance and realism of Chekhov's rendition of the plight of humanity. Set in a lakeside country estate, Chekhov portrays the two worlds he knows best - the theatrical tribe of Muskovites and the rural gentry. In a riveting culture clash, Chekhov puts the flaws of individual human beings under a microscopic in an unsentimental dissection. The result is a portrayal so real that it is downright humorous.

Faithful interpretation of Chekhov's text, coupled with stunning performances by Gigi Bermingham as the diva Arkadina, Gregory Itzin as her brother Sorin and James Sutorious as the local doctor, make this one of the best productions of a Chekhov play in recent years. The outstanding ensemble cast also features terrific work by Joe Delafield, Jules Willcox, Reba Waters, Avery Clyde, Adrian LaTourelle, Partrick Wenk-Wolff, Brian Abraham and Bonnie Snyder. This is a rich and textured rendition of Chekhov that should not be missed.

Meanwhile, at the Mark Taper Forum, a historic production of Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot - another play about world-weariness and the meaningless of existence - has opened with an outstanding cast featuring Alan Mandell as Estragon, Barry McGovern as Vladamir, James Cromwell as Pozzo and Hugo Armstrong as Lucky. Like Chekhov, Beckett was a master of drama who could wrangle the absurdity of life onto the stage, and director Michael Arabian finds a precise balance of humor and existential musing.

Mandell and McGovern are the perfect pair, creating a kind of philosophical vaudeville that is both mesmerizing and hilarious. Seamlessly weaving elements of burlesque, commedia del-arte and absurdism, the actors under Arabian's direction illuminate Beckett's text in ways that are both profound, moving and entertaining. That is a tough combination to achieve with Beckett's plays, but this production tackles the challenge with enormous success.

What is stunning about both these productions is that hard-eyed theatrical realism, in the hands of gifted playwrights, directors and actors, can create a magical alchemy that transforms the mundane daily trials and foibles of individual human beings into universal truths about the nature of existence. The stages of Los Angeles are now ringing with those truths.