- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 23, 2002

"The Marriage," by Russian literary star Nikolai Gogol, contains many funny insights and lines about the timeless, fierce apprehension people have about getting married.
However, in the hands of Classika Theatre's eight-member cast and director Yuri Kordonsky, the comedic pacing is so off and the dramatic tension so lacking that one wonders whether the play is a comedy or a tragedy.
In no other dramatic form is timing as important as it is in comedy: If we have to wait too long for a joke or punch line, it simply isn't funny. "The Marriage" lacks this essential timing in a bad way.
The story line is simple: Pretty Agafya Tikhonovna (Caroline Kenney), in her late 20s and in need of a husband, hires matchmaker Fyokla Ivanovna (Hanna Bondarewska) to help her find a suitor.
Fyokla played competently but exhaustingly by Miss Bondarewska (she has one level of intensity and that's full-throttle) comes up with four suitors, all pathetic in their own ways.
Agafya has a difficult time deciding whom to choose. Miss Kenney portrays this character in a sort of pantomime fashion, with the focus on her wide-eyed expressions rather than delivery of lines.
The suitors, Podkolyosin (Stephen Shetler), Omelet (Dwayne Starlin), Anuchkin (Tel Monks) and Zhevakin (Lou Swerda), engage in one-upmanship in Agafya's presence. One boasts he has the highest status; another that he's the most cultured.
Podkolyosin possesses a secret weapon: a male matchmaker and friend Kochkaryov (Jason Basinger Linkins), who does his best to sabotage the other men's chances.
The performances of the four suitors fall flat, but Mr. Linkins brings energy and spark to his role as the consummate, up-to-no-good jester. Another delightful performance comes from Paul McLane, who plays Stepan, Podkolyosin's male servant.
Mr. McLane's character eats constantly, says little and looks at the farce around him in a detached, slightly amused manner. Although he has fewer lines than any of the other characters, Mr. McLane succeeds in making his character the funniest and most watchable.
An interesting, evolving set design would be nice, given the 2-hour play's many stumbling performances and direction.
Instead, "The Marriage" has a black-box set, by Misha Kachman, in the truest sense of the word. Black chairs and a table with a fountain pen sit against black walls. This constitutes the entire set for most of the play
"The Marriage" offers good literary material. The Classika presentation also contains a few good performances, milks some laughs out of the audience and has been extended until the end of March (which must mean some viewers really like it).
But it's not a production with which you'll fall in love.

WHAT: "The Marriage"
WHERE: Classika Theatre, 4041 S. 28th St., Arlington
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 4 p.m. Sundays, through March 31
TICKETS: Thursday and Sunday $15 in advance and $17 at the door; Friday and Saturday $17 in advance and $20 at the door.
PHONE: 703/824-6200


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