A. Chekhov's The Darling
nytheatre.com review by Julie Congress
August 21, 2011
Entering the theatre, we see a kitchen table with chairs all around it and a samovar on a small table (with matching tablecloth). We are transported to another time. Storyteller and solo performer Lisa Dalton enters and begins to narrate and soon play the characters of Anton Chekhov’s story, "The Darling." It is instantly recognizable that this is a short story, not a play. Dalton’s slow, sing-songy pace lulls us off into another time. It is reminiscent of being read to as a child.
Olenka, always quick to fall in love, marries Kukin, the dour, jaundiced owner of the Tivoli (the local summer theatre). Olenka loves her husband and the Tivoli. She does the books, she lends the actors money—she invests herself utterly into Kukin’s world. The actors call her darling. When Kukin suddenly dies, Olenka loses her personality and her joy. Fortunately for the young widow, the lumberyard manager Pustavalov has set his sights on her and they are married. Olenka now loves her new husband and his lumberyard. Together they shun the Tivoli as an unnecessary entertainment and everything becomes about the lumber business. A. Chekhov’s The Darling follows Olenka’s loves and losses and paints a portrait of a woman who has no opinions of her own, but, chameleon-like, absorbs those around her.
Dalton is an accomplished performer with great physical specificity; making it very clear visually which character she is at any point. When she transitioned from narrator into Kukin, I thought I was watching her melt—her knees seemed to bend further than knees should bend. Dalton is the president of the National Michael Chekhov Association and her work with his Psychological Gesture is very apparent in her performance.
In the program it says: “The current production seeks to let the audience decide whether she’s worthy of pity, ridicule or admiration.” Watching the performance, I definitely felt as though I was being pushed towards pity/admiration. An air of nostalgia hangs over every word and there is little humor in the performance. Directed by Victor S. Tkachenko (via Skype, as he and Dalton live in different parts of the country) there is precision to the performance and the tone is very clearly set. Given the nature of the story and how Tkachenko and Dalton have chosen to approach it, it is difficult to feel empathy with Olenka, but I do think it is a well-crafted piece of storytelling.