THE DUEL, European Repertory Company, at Steppenwolf Studio Theatre. It seems this show couldn't possibly miss. One of the best short stories by the master of the form, Anton Chekhov, has been adapted by Frank Galati, whose literary adaptations have set the standard in Chicago for years. It's directed by Luda Lopatina, who proved herself the city's best Chekhov director with her 1999 production of Ivanov. To top it off, Lopatina has assembled a dream cast with many of the city's best actors, including Robert Breuler, Yasen Peyankov, Dado, Kurt Brocker, and Eric C. Johnson.
Yet somehow this extraordinary convergence of talent has produced a strangely inert evening of theater. In retelling the tale of the bored and dissipated government clerk Ivan Layevsky, trapped in the Caucasus with a mistress he loathes and tormented by the unforgiving rationalist Nicholas Von Koren, Lopatina's cast seems lost in a noncommittal fog. The performances are intelligent and well crafted, and as Layevsky, Brocker puts himself through such a harrowing ordeal he should be given every Jeff Award available. However, even in the show's best moments, Chekhov's crystalline characters remain sketchy and amorphous, and little sense of dramatic urgency develops.
Part of the problem may be the succession of short scenes broken up by long blackouts that impede the play's flow. But the overall tentativeness of these seasoned performers suggests a bigger problem--the show simply didn't gestate long enough.