CHRISTMAS AT THE IVANOVS by Aleksandr Vvedensky, directed by Aleksandar Lukac, with Michelle Polak, Philip Riccio, Kurt Smeaton, Tim Gentle and Michaela Hayek. Presented by Talk Is Free at the Poor Alex (296 Brunswick). Runs to March 2, Thursday-Saturday 8 pm, Saturday late show midnight. $16-$22, stu/artists $12, Saturday midnight two-for-one. 416-923-1644. Rating: NN
aleksandr vvedensky's christ-mas At The Ivanovs is a bit like those René Magritte pictures. You know, where a canvas titled This Is Not A Pipe is dominated by a pipe. What you see isn't really what you get.A bit of music hall, a lot of illogical craziness and some minimal story feed the action, but there are no Ivanovs in the tale, and the lesson we're told to expect doesn't materialize.
Never mind. There are some funny, entertaining episodes as the story veers off on its bizarre flights of fancy. This 1938 play anticipates Theatre of the Absurd by several decades.
At its centre is the Puzyrov family, which suffers tragedy when, with the parents off at the theatre, the nurse takes an axe and beheads one of the seven children. The rest of the piece follows the family's mourning -- and more deaths -- and the fortunes of the unlucky nurse. Add a few gay policemen, multiple flashbacks, journeys through several characters' stomachs and you get a sense of the tangents-on-tangents followed by the "plot."
Director Aleksandar Lukac has a tight grip on the potentially unwieldy play, which includes additional material by Daniil Kharms, but some cast members don't bring the necessary focus to their clown-inspired characters.
Others -- including Philip Riccio, Michelle Polak, Tim Gentle and Michaela Hayek -- have found just the right style to underline the insanity. Everyone plays the material to the manic hilt, but at nearly two and a half hours, it's too much.
I wish that hilt were connected to a shorter blade.