Arts

Meshahnye, the Classic Gorky Play, Returns to New York

DoubleDeckerProductions Stages a New Revival of the Russian Classic at One of Off-Broadway's Most Hallowed Venues

DDP Production Team

Take a stroll down to the East Village this week and you may just end up in Russia...

DoubleDeckerProductions is presenting a brand new translation of Maxim Gorky's play "Meshahnye" (Мещане) starting this week. The play is directed by Jenny Sterlin (known for roles on Broadway opposite Alan Cumming) and debuted last night at the Cino Theater at Theater for the New City to positive reception.

The 1902 Russian play reflects the timeless human divide between generations, class status, revolt, and the never-ending struggle of duty, morality, and traditional values. It's story follows the household of Vasil Vasilyevich, and the gradual disintegration of his family unit. His children are depressed, his wife is harried, their friends either drunk or iconoclastic. All of this takes place against the stagnating backdrop of pre-revolutionary Russia. Previously translated as Philistines by Dusty Hughes, this new production began with a literal translation of Gorky's original words by Russian native Leo Grinberg and then modernized the language, with the help of Jenny Sterlin, in order to portray the shockingly relevant and culturally enlightening story for a contemporary audience.

Translator Leo Grinberg and director Jenny Sterlin

"Meshahnye" will be performed by a diverse group of actors of various ages, ethnicities, and backgrounds. The principal Vasilyevich family will be played by John Lenartz, Isabella Knight, and Annie F. Nelson. Rounding out the complex cast of characters are Kenneth Cavett, Ninoshka De Leon Gill, Leo Grinberg, Kelli Maguire, Kassandra Perez, Fede Rangel, Aaron Wright, Zenon Zeleniuch, and Thomas Burns Scully. "Meshahnye" is being produced by Artistic Director Jenny Sterlin, Laurie Prose, General Manager, and Alex Duncker, Production Assistant.

DoubleDeckerProductions is a non-profit company that exists to advance the cause of human understanding by creating theatrical productions at the highest level of artistic excellence and making them affordable for the broadest community. DoubleDeckerProductions has a history of producing award-winning new works often focused on generational identity and character dynamics.

DDP Production Team

Their illustrious past includes readings of Haitian playwright Bernard Sterlin, productions of plays by Jimmy Kerr, successful entries at Origin Theatre's 1st Irish Theatre Festival (winning Audience Favorite in 2016 for Dorothy of Nowhere), and much, much more. With this track record, it's not surprising that their board consists of Tessa Thompson (Dear White People, Thor: Ragnarok), Judith Ivey (Tony and Drama Desk Award winner), Richard Martin, Susan Rothschild (NYC Department of Cultural Affairs), and stage and screen legend Alan Cumming (Macbeth, X-Men 2, GoldenEye).

"Meshahnye" will continue to play Thursday through Monday (with an additional performance on Wednesday the 26th) until September 30th. Tickets are $35 with student and senior discounts available. For reservations visit DoubleDeckerProductions.org or email DoubleDeckerProductionsNYC@gmail.com.

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Arts

Love and gender politics in Theresa Rebeck's 'Spike Heels'

THEATRE | Theresa Rebeck's 1992 play gets an Off-Broadway revival that highlights the growth of the conversation about women over the last two decades

In two Boston apartments, four hearts are alternately broken down and built back up again. Joanna Pinto plays Georgie, friend and borderline Eliza Dolittle to Andrew (Zach Shinske), a ruffled and confusable academic. She visits him, angry, tells him how her boss and his long-term friend Edward (Andrew Pagliara) at first propositioned her, then essentially threatened to rape her. A shocked Andrew wants to give Edward a piece of his mind, but Georgie is apparently more interested in Andrew, who she attempts to seduce. Andrew, however, is married to Lydia (Marie Dinolan), who he wants to remain faithful too. Georgie, shunned, goes out with Edward in an attempt to make Andrew jealous, but she just ends up stirring the pot even more. Sexual sparks fly, and the politics of love and gender form the backdrop to a deeply flawed love quadrangle.

Theresa Rebeck's Spike Heels is a straightforward play. A romantic comedy of manners (and lack thereof) in which the characters, despite, by and large, knowing what they want, are unable or unwilling to take the correct course of action to get what they want. Essentially, a very long episode of a sit-com, with all the requisite witty one-liners that entails. It's a funny play, and it's performed well by this cast, but in the "woke" era of millennial sexual politics, it raises a couple of issues.

The portrayal of women here feels very 1992 (when it was originally published), which would read fine if this was a period piece, except that this iteration is obviously set in modern day. Director Jay D. Brock has the characters using smart phones and iPods, indicating the present day quite clearly. The actions of both female characters feel stayed and boxed in, and, honestly, incorrect for our time. A 2017 version of Georgie would not take the crap she puts up with from Edward or Andrew. On the one hand, this is heartening, as the play now highlights progress that has been made in twenty-five years. On the other, it makes the audience pine for a stronger version of the character they are watching.

"Andrew Pagliara is a slimy hybrid of Patrick Bateman and Gordon Gecko as Edward"

Howl at the Moon and Chase Avon Productions have a lovely cast here. Pinto plays Georgie as strong, and sexually aggressive, but also masters the insecurities of the character in order to motivate the action of the play. Andrew Pagliara is a slimy hybrid of Patrick Bateman and Gordon Gecko as Edward, and yet somehow manages to also be likable and human, which makes him all the funnier to watch. Marie Dinolan's Lydia is exactly what the plot needs her to be: pristine, verging on icy, and yet also relatable. As Andrew, Zach Shinske hits all of his emotional beats well, however it feels like there is something missing from the character. If anything, he's too likable and relatable. His reputation as an aloof academic, as described by the play's text, feels at odds with the understanding Teddy Bear that Shinske presents us with. It's not enough to derail the production, but it does affect suspension of disbelief.

At the end of it all, however, Spike Heels is a pleasant evening at the theatre. While its politics are a little out of date, and it has one or two issues, the overall product is serviceable and enjoyable. A game cast perform a play filled with great jokes and enough heart to keep you interested. Worth a look for the casual Off-Broadway browser.