Too Clever By Half
nytheatre.com review by Chris Harcum
August 16, 2007
Hey, Julliard, you've just been put on notice. There's a new ensemble featuring talented artists with high-caliber training and they are sticking together. For that matter, Classic Stage Company and the Pearl ought to be looking over their shoulders too. Studio 6 of the Moscow Art Theater is rolling out a production of Alexandr Ostrovsky's Too Clever by Half. While they are doing a play whose title means "one is confident in one's intelligence to the point of annoying others," this group of performers is gifted to the point of delighting others. If Studio 6 delivers in future productions on the promise created in this one, there could be a paradigm shift in the quality of work in town.
The members of Studio 6 hold the distinction of being the first American class to attend the Moscow Art Theater School for a full four years, taking the same curriculum as their Russian counterparts. While that sounds like a stunt for a reality show, the results on stage at the Connelly Theater speak for themselves: a brisk, healthy, charming comedy using a high-level of inner and outer character work. They speak well. They move well. They bring truth and they listen to one another on stage. In short, this is the kind of work I expected to find in abundance when I moved to the City but found sorely lacking. The biggest surprise? They seem to genuinely be there for each other. Whether they have intense dramatic scenes, comedic bits of business, or are simply holding up a piece of scenery, each actor seems to be giving what is necessary to make the best happen for the play. Others may be as well-trained; few are as free of ego and pretentiousness.
This production opens with live piano accompaniment and a lovely singer belting out lyrics in Russian. When the piano player translates the lyrics into English, it turns out to be the requisite "turn off your cell phone" pre-show speech, cluing the audience how this show will be something unexpected. Taylor Sutherland and Alesia Georgiou's music and lyrics weave another value-added character into this amazing ensemble. The characters introduce themselves wearing Dasha Martikainen's colorful and interesting costumes and then zip into this story of Glumov's rise in 18th-century Moscow society using different kinds of trickery, only to be undone by his own hand. This idea is clearly exemplified with Peiyi Wong's multifarious set that goes from realistic to symbolic and back again.
Vasanth Santosham is listed as director and Marat Yusim as artistic advisor. I am not sure who gets credit for pulling what together in this astounding production. To both I say thanks. This is truly a marvel.
If there is a Thespis in the sky, Studio 6 will create more projects over the next decade. Hopefully someone with big shoulders will adopt them so they can keep their integrity intact (hint, hint Public Theatre) and/or someone with deep pockets will provide them with a suitable sandbox in which to play. That being said, may they also stay unfettered from ego and keep their focus on the plays. If you have any interest in quality productions, see Too Clever by Half.