THE BLOG
01/30/2015 12:43 am ET Updated Mar 31, 2015

First Nighter: Schilling, Dinklage, Edwards Spend 'A Month in the Country'

If you go by Ivan Turgenev's A Month in the Country, revived at Classic Stage Company, you might conclude the revered Russian literary man was more of a city lover. As we used to say to someone stating the obvious, "What was your first clue?" Here, it's the script's implication that for many of the characters, a month in the country is about all they can take. Then they eagerly hit the road for parts unknown.

Love found or not found or found but not requited or love requited but not licit are the reasons these people scatter or are forlornly left behind is what unfolds chockablock on the estate that Arkady (Anthony Edwards) owns during Russia's 1840s and over which his wife Natalya (Taylor Schilling) presides.

As with almost anything Russian of the period, languor seems the prevailing attitude while anxiety roils unexpressed underneath. That's certainly what afflicts Natalya as she yearns for Aleksey (Mike Faist), the student tutor circulating with his chest hanging out much of the time. The sole person with whom she feels truly comfortable is wise and tolerant family friend Rakitin (Peter Dinklage).

Star-crossed hopefuls Natalya and Aleksey aren't the only ones with eyes for the wrong or, at least, the unresponsive person. All the hopeful or reluctant couples spend Turgenev's first act, as it's presented here, setting out their various conflicts in interesting but not necessarily spellbinding modes

It's in the livelier second act wherein the skewed love(?) affairs simmer and boil. They get off to a start when local Shpigelsky (Thomas Jay Ryan) proposes marriage to Natalya's companion Lizaveta (Annabella Sciorra) by impressing on her that he's not only unromantic but devoutly anti-romantic.

Their down-to-earth tete-a-tete becomes the amuse-bouche for the delicately contrasting trysts and confrontations that follow head over heels. Chief among them, of course, is the Natalya-Arkady-Aleksey triangle about which Arkady is actually in sympathy and during which Rakitin eventually sees the need to take gallant conciliatory measures. The other impending, though not heart-throbbing union concerns young estate ward Vera (Megan West), who's looking for someone more entrancing than 48-year-old Bolshintsov (Peter Appel).

Because the entwined conflicts have such get-me-outta-here repercussions for the addled participants, the only one left on stage at curtain is Arkady's aging mother Anna (Elizabeth Franz), sitting forlornly as if a symbol of an abandoned age--not unlike Firs at the end of The Cherry Orchard, Anton Chekhov's much later portrait of rural Russian discontent.

Erica Schmidt directs the production with an appealing light touch, which might be due in large part to John Christopher Jones's new translation. This means that though Natalya is in trying throes, Schilling -- on leave from Orange is the New Black -- radiates warmth throughout. Dinklage -- on leave from Game of Thrones -- never seems completely to drop the intensity with which he habitually performs but is fine. So's Anthony "ER" Edwards, although Arkady's presence is limited and would benefit from more writing.

(By the way: Note that Schilling, Dinklage and Edwards are known nowadays for their television work. It's a pleasure to see them in the flesh and probably not a bad ticket-selling incentive, either.)

The entire cast -- Faist, West, Appel, among them -- comes off extremely well. A special word needs to be said about Ian Etheridge, who plays 10-year-old Kolya with gusto and charm.

But about Mark Wendland's set: very curious. A drawing room, where much of the action occurs, is represented by several pieces of furniture, among them a chaise longue on which Natalya can stretch her languid self. Inexplicably suspended above the playing area, however, is a floorless room with gossamer walls and two doors.

It remains in place from beginning to end. Why? Is it intended to imply that the estate's walls have been lifted so spectators can snoop at what's going on inside. Or is it just there to suggest that after abiding in the country too long, even the Arkady house is trying to get away