For some actors, the biggest challenge in the acting process is making the choices that not only create a character, but also those choices that create the scene. Now imagine the challenge of taking two classic Chekhov characters from The Seagull, and offering up 42 variations to that scene? The Nina Variations is exactly that type of play, in this limited engagement production coming to the Chain Theatre, beginning tonight.
In this homage to The Seagull, Steven Dietz locks Nina, a young actress played by Francesca Ravera, and Treplev, a young writer played by André Vauthey, in a room and doesn't let them out. Described as a "play of possibilities," over the course of 42 scenes, the two star-crossed lovers try to re-write their relationship and tell each other what they had not the chance to say in the original version. We had the opportunity to interview the two international stars of the production about this challenging work.
Q: Whats it’s like for an actor to tackle one scene with so many possibilities at one time?
Francesca Ravera: The Nina Variations has been for me a wonderful opportunity to explore the different layers that are present in The Seagull and all the contrasting feelings, as well as the journey Nina goes though during the course of the play. In each scene I found something new about Nina, about her needs, her wants, and her relationship with Kostya. I think in a play of so many possibilities, for an actor it is essential to make bold choices: we really can’t play safe when working on this material.
André Vauthey: As an actor, it is very interesting to be able to do a scene over again in different ways. We always wonder how a scene should or could go. Here we are given the opportunity to explore 42 different ways. It is extremely interesting and fulfilling.
Q: What’s your biggest challenge in learning and crafting this material?
Francesca Ravera: My biggest challenge, and the one I’m most grateful for playing this role - as an actress - has been trusting my instincts. This is a fast-paced 42-scene play, and as I said it requires bold choices, being open and vulnerable, working off your scene partner, and then letting go of it, moving on to the next scene, the next circumstance, and the next version of Nina.
André Vauthey: There are 42 scenes and they aren’t all connected. Meaning, a play usually has a storyline that builds throughout the play. Here we need to be ready to hold 42 scenes as if they were each of them the whole play.
Q: How much is the original Chekhov work come into play as far as your performance is concerned?
Francesca Ravera: I am very familiar with “the Seagull”, and Nina is a dream role of mine. When I started working on “The Nina Variations” I knew that this is Dietz and not Chekhov. I read The Seagull again, then I put it aside and focused on this play only. Nina is the same person she is in “The Seagull”, but each scene of “The Nina Variations” allowed me to explore different aspects of her personality, and how her character is develops through her life experiences and circumstances.
André Vauthey: There are a lot of circumstances and subtexts that come into the acting for me that are implied from the original work. Not knowing them, my performance would have been probably more one-dimensional.
Q: To adequately understand this play, The Nina Variations, how much do audiences need to know the original work, The Seagull?
Francesca Ravera: Of course knowing “The Seagull” enables audiences to understand all the references to Chekhov’s masterpiece, so I think it’s a jewel of a play for those who are familiar with it. But this is not an intellectual play! It’s a beautiful story of two star-crossed lovers that explore their relationship to each other, their identity as human beings and as artists. I think this a beautiful and moving play, that anyone can enjoy.
André Vauthey: It helps to know the original play for sure, but there is a universal truth that can be understood without it too.
Q: What’s your favorite part of this play?
Francesca Ravera: I don’t really have a favorite part. But there are moments that break my heart.
André Vauthey: There are some lines that just go home for me. There is a mixture of poetry and pertinence.
The Nina Variations runs for a limited 4 Performances beginning tonight at 7:30 at The Chain Theatre (312 West 36th Street. New York, NY 10018 - 4th Floor). Tickets can be bought at the door as well as online at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/the-nina-variations-tickets-52655642444?aff=eac2
Thursday, December 6th at 7:30pm
Friday, December 7th at 7:30pm
Saturday, December 8th at 7:30pm
Sunday matinee, December 9th at 3:00pm