Oh, God, not just Chekhov but THREE HOURS OF CHEKHOV! What is a girl to do? I hate Chekhov and I’d already seen two three hour (and one of them three hours plus) shows in the previous three days! But … I got a call from a good friend saying she had an extra ticket for this play by Chekhov (that I’d never seen before) at the Arcola, and the ticket was for a Friday (meaning that getting home at midnight wouldn’t be quite so painful, a very important calculation when seeing a show in Dalston), and she’s the one who always goes with me to all of the Ibsen plays … it was time to pay the piper.
And, of course, because it was the Arcola, it was time for a big plate of Turkish barbeque from 19 Numara Bos Cirrik, and a box full of baklava from Tugra to power me through the interval. Dreary depressing really really long doubtlessly will make me hate myself for going Chekhov: my stomach is full and I have a box full of baklava. Bring it.
So we’re jammed into this teensy little space (which, you know, is the Arcola), and there’s about nine actors rolling around on stage, being drunk, downing vodka, acting pretentious, basically begging for a good slap, and I start cracking open my box of honeyed flaky yumminess and wondering how I’m ever going to make the near two hours to the interval. And man, we’re hitting the stereotypes: the sweet little religious wifey, the husband who madly loves his indifferent spouse, the gorgeous over the hill actress, the snooty intellectual who thinks he’s superior to the lot … and at the heart of this whirling mass of mutts from the Chekhovian puppy mill is Platonov, a total drunk of a schoolteacher who is only ever seen in a classroom to sleep off his hangover, who glugs vodka from the bottle, who loves to tease people beyond the point of cruelty and yet for some reason is adored by his male friends and every woman in the play (including his wifey). He was just so generally nauseating I couldn’t help but root for the intellectual as the only person that actually hated Platonov. Yes! He’s a jerk! Why make a play about him? Time to line them all up against a wall and let the tide of history take its course.
And … well, I, I … I kind of got caught up in it all. I still thought Platonov was a jerk but I wanted to know what had happened with him and Sofya (the indifferent wife) in the past. And then the element of danger comes in, with a horsethief whose been slipped money to defend the aesthete’s dad’s honor by cutting Platonov up (an assignment he accepts despite also being indebted to wifey for her kindness) … will he do it?
While the world can’t possibly be full of as many guns, suicides, and murderers as it does in Chekhov’s plays, there’s no doubt there are still plenty of drunks and cheaters out there, and Sons without Fathers has them in spades. I can’t say that they are what pushed me around the bend to enjoying this show – the lively, intense performances (how could I possibly buy Mrs Platonov?- but I did thanks to Amy McAllister’s skill) – but it ultimately got to a point of both misery and realism that I found truly engaging. Yeah, this play is about a bunch of people on a downhill trajectory, but not only are they going really fast, they’re very believable. In fact, at the end, I was convinced it was only about 10 PM and not 10:30 – their speed pulled me along (especially the electrifying title performance by Jack Laskey). Leg twitches? Numb bum? Nope, just three straight hours of really hot performances. I’ll still make sure this is the end of me and Chekhov for this year, but as for Sons without Fathers, there were no regrets.
(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, May 31st, 2013. It continues through June 15th.)