Noah J Nelson on Tuesday, Jun. 19th
Continuing our coverage of the Hollywood Fringe Festival.
You don’t have to be a huge fan of Anton Chekhov, the legendary Russian playwright to get a lot out of the Will Play For Food theatre group’s production of Steven Dietz’s The Nina Variations. Taking the final scene between the characters of Nina and Treplev from Chekhov’s The Seagull as it’s inspiration, the play flips through forty-odd quick explorations of the dynamic between the two, spinning out sprightly alternate realities and melancholic meditations on the themes of the classic. None of which, in director Scott Marden’s brisk and balanced production, requires being familiar with a single line of the original text.
Marden takes Dietz’s original and adds a twist of his own: three sets of Nina’s and Treplev’s. This modification allows the piece to break well past the limitations of a dramaturgical experiment and delve into the archetypal and psychological roots within the character’s relationships in a way that becomes as much a visual element as it is a factor of language. While those who are familiar with the play will experience this production as an effective exegesis of the source material, those who come in on shakier ground vis-a-vis Russian literature will find the whole of the action ememnetly followable thanks to Marden’s deft staging.
It is something of a feat to see a company’s inaugural production, Will Play For Food is a gathering of young actors, come together so well. Despite the headiness of the language and the complexity of some of the themes this show just moves in it’s brisk hour. The stage is set simply, with a writing desk and chair at center and two sets of chairs on either side of the stage. The alternate Nina’s and Treplev’s are often stationed in these chairs, watching intently as their other versions play out a variation, bearing witness to what might have been,
Yet what makes this play worth seeing, far beyond it’s value as an investigation of a classic, is the vigorous way it explores the liminal spaces of love that can exist between two souls. By casting multiple actors into the roles of these not-quite-lovers, Marden reveals the multiple-nature of our own personalities. A reminder that we are not fixed points in space, but relative phenomenon dependent on the moods and motion of others, even as we retain an essential core.
It’s a fine Fringe debut for Marden, his producing partner Shashona Brooks and Will Play For Food. Let’s hope there’s more from them both in the near future.
The Nina Variations plays again June 21st, 23rd, and 24th as part of the Hollywood Fringe Festival.