Chekhov Lizardbrain at the Arts Bank

(and, BOOHISSS, Fox News)

When James Sugg steps out of a royal blue skyscape through lush red-velvet curtains and starts his schizoid performance as Dmitri you immediately get it. 

We go from the stories of Dmitri’s psychosis to the Chekhovian landscape on a center ring circus set with actors in handle-bar moustaches, bowlers and eventually tails over the period skivvies. Once inside his head, we meet Sascha (the primal brain), Pyotr (the dog brain) and Nicholai (the evolved brain).tricky juggling act with dropped balls built into the tableau.  Writer Robert Quillen Camp’s dialogue cycles and bold structure kept unlocking both the Chekhov motifs and the haywire surrealism. 

The pacing would implode on other troupes, but these are actors who hot-wire all of it, anchored with Sugg’s dual characterization. 

Sascha makes you feel pain and zaniness a moment apart. Talking about his mother’s illness and his vows to take care of her house makes brings us to Chekhovian gravitas instantly.

The play was an unlikely sold out hit at its first incarnation at the German Society in Northern Liberties in Philly and in its expanded New York run last year it was one of the New York Times 10 best plays of 2008, and Sugg’s performance snagged an Obie Award.

At the 10 o’clock performance Fri night at the Arts Bank, the bitter cold didn’t chill the warm reception of Lizardbrain fans. 

Dan Rothenberg, tweaking the ensemble and readying for a return to New York, was wearing as a badge of honor, the fact that the show was singled out by FOX NEWS and John McCain as an example of wasteful federal funding from the stimulus package.  Apparently, they even made fun of Pig Iron. No surprise that they don’t even know a centuries old theater object. Course they are so dead inside they don’t even know when they are sandbagged. One wonders if this gang of political vaudevillians even knows who Chekhov is, but you’d expect them to recognize a lizardbrain.

But definitely not an elegant,  literary illusion by a bold, poetic and challenging theatrical troupe.

McCain criticizing art? After seeing his campaign you think he would know something about farce, but the man has obviously no imagination. I’m sure he would have sent Martha Graham to an asylum and  thrown Moliere to the wolves. Course, all this is so predictable. The right wing has been chopping at the bit for fresh artistic meat now that Robert Mapplethorpe is dead.

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