- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 21, 2004

The Stanislavsky Theater Studio’s new production of acclaimed Irish playwright Brian Friel’s “Fathers and Sons” is less a provocative evening of drama than an endurance contest.

Adapted from Ivan Turgenev’s controversial 1862 novel, Mr. Friel’s play largely sacrifices energy for theoretical complexity. And the yawn-inducing pace of this 3 hour production may tempt more than a few to bail out at halftime.

First performed in 1987, Mr. Friel’s adaptation carves the essence out of Turgenev’s powerful tale, which raised in a still firmly-czarist Russia the divisive issues of class structure, socialism, and revolution.

“Fathers and Sons” weaves the story of two old families, the Kirsanovs and the Bazarovs, who are trapped in a time warp of traditionalism even as their own sons, university students influenced by the latest radical ideas, rebel against them.

Like an opera librettist, Mr. Friel has done a decent job here of compacting his material, but not an outstanding one. His occasionally anachronistic dialogue is windy and didactic, like the lecturing of a professor who repeats an idea endlessly to make sure his witless students get it. And the play’s interminable finale could have been dispensed with entirely.

The evening is not helped by director Andrei Malaev-Babel’s funereal sense of pacing. His characters shuffle about like zombies. Curtains are needlessly rearranged between scenes in a collective compulsion neurosis. Worse still, Mr. Malaev-Babel grinds the dialogue to a halt by the frequent use of the pregnant pause. Each seems to last a full nine months.

In a production such as this, one’s heart goes out to the actors who bravely soldier on in this Hiberno-Russian night of the living dead. Veteran Irish actors Richard Orr (Pavel Kirsanov) and Gordon Fulton (Vassily Bazarov) portray their characters with great dignity and professionalism, although Mr. Fulton’s vocal mannerisms sometimes resemble those of the Wizard of Oz after his curtain has been pulled back.

Tiffany Givens is outstanding if a bit severe in the frostily conflicted role of the wealthy young widow Anna Odintsova. Ratja Telcs (Fenichka) turns in a modestly understated performance as the elder Kirsanov’s young mistress. And versatile Sarah Kane is outstanding in the dual roles of Yevgeny’s mother and the eccentric Princess Olga-the latter a live-giving comic touch.

One must conclude that “Father and Sons” is still best experienced as a novel. And Brian Friel — in spite of his Irish solidarity with long-suffering Russia — remains more convincing when he’s writing about the haunted windswept seascapes of his native land.

*

WHO: The Stanislavsky Theater Studio

WHAT: “Fathers and Sons” adapted by Brian Friel from a novel by Ivan Turgenev

WHERE: Church Street Theater, 1742 Church St. NW

TICKETS: $31 to $36, with discounts for seniors, students, and groups

INFORMATION: 1-800-494-8497

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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