Improvanov: Anton Chekhov Unscripted | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Improvanov: Anton Chekhov Unscripted

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Improvanov: Anton Chekhov Unscripted, Free Associates, at the Royal George Theatre Center. This show's premise is that Chekhov's plays can be reduced to five basic elements: a case of unrequited love, an unfulfillable dream, a character with an elaborate philosophy, a disruptive visitor, and an overarching sense of doom. Plug something in for each element, the logic goes, and you can improvise a Chekhov play of your very own.

I've been thinking about this notion for days, and I have to say my feelings about it are intensely... mixed. On the one hand, it kind of works. Opening-night audience suggestions gave us the Bolshevik family--Natasha, Mikhail, and stepbrother Frank--who live together in a manor house doomed to dry rot. Mikhail is a philosophical stoic (and practical alcoholic), Natasha dreams of washing her own hair, and Frank carries a torch for the beautiful plumber who's been summoned to fix the Bolsheviks' tragically unfixable pipes. All this plus a lot of soulful staring made for a pretty funny approximation of any of the five major Chekhov plays.

Thing is, it's not as if nobody ever noticed how trivial, stunted, wistful, and ridiculous Chekhov's characters can be. He himself noticed and played with them self-mockingly all the time. So even though I laughed at much of Improvanov, I ended up feeling it wasn't satirizing Chekhov so much as flattening him out. All in all, I'd rather have seen the real thing.

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