Early Chekhov on the mark

Rating: NNNNNImagine The Big Chill set in 19th-century Russia and you'll get some sense of Platonov, Chekhov's early play about.

Rating: NNNNN

Imagine The Big Chill set in 19th-century Russia and you’ll get some sense of Platonov, Chekhov’s early play about failed dreams, getting older and, um, trying to get laid.

Adapted from its original five-hour running time to a more comfortable three by actor Susan Coyne and director Laszlo Marton, the play focuses on frustrated, cynical married schoolteacher Platonov (Albert Schultz) and the quartet of women sucked into his destructive orbit.

Marton won a Dora for direction, and it’s easy to see why. The script’s messy — who said great art has to be neat? — but Marton brings out all its moody modulations, from alcohol-induced witticisms to nervous declarations of love and lust.

With its high walls, and its doors and windows that hint at other rooms and possibilities, Victoria Wallace’s spare set and Kevin Lamotte’s lighting — from original designs by Michael Levine — help capture the spartan feel of the play and put the focus on the human drama of its characters.

Schultz, in the role that’s been called the Russian Hamlet, suggests the frustrated man beneath the raconteur, the romantic beneath the brute. He’s well matched by Robyn Stevan as his simple but loyal wife, Sasha, Coyne as his now-married former love interest, Nancy Palk (slightly miscast) as a sensuous, equally frustrated widow and especially Liisa Repo-Martell as a young scientist whose flushed face and trembling voice reveal her innermost passions.

Schultz might have the most stage time, but Repo-Martell and Diego Matamoros — as that Chekhovian staple, the drunken philosopher — capture the show’s spirit. They prove that tragedy is just a breath away from comedy. G

*PLATONOV, by Anton Chekhov, adapted by Susan Coyne and Laszlo Marton, directed by Marton, with Coyne, Stuart Hughes, Christian Lloyd, Diego Matamoros, Nancy Palk, Liisa Repo-Martell, Albert Schultz and Robyn Stevan. Presented by Soulpepper at the du Maurier Theatre Centre (231 Queen’s Quay West). Runs to July 29, Thursday-Saturday 8 pm. $25-$46. 973-4000. Rating: NNNN

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