Fine performances, accentuated by strong direction and beautiful, minimalist set design come together to create a clean and memorable production of Steven Dietz’s THE NINA VARIATIONS at the newly opened Chain Theatre on Manhattan’s West 36th Street.
The production is running only as a very limited 4-performance engagement which is a shame because this is a play worth watching and studying if you love theatre. If you are familiar with Chekhov’s THE SEAGULL, you will be one step ahead and can connect the dots easier than if you are seeing it cold for the first time. But even as an experiment in theatre, the idea that a crucial scene from THE SEAGULL could be re-written and approached with 42 variations of what could or could have happened is a fascinating concept that not many actors or directors could handle. At the hands of co-directors Francesco Campari and Emma Arlauskas, this play is seamless and beautiful to watch. The set design by Catherine Raynor is clean, simple, visually memorable and functional. A floating moon on stage left keeps track of each variation as it happens and while that was a little distracting at first, it eventually just becomes part of the overall presentation. A Desk center stage and some clever lighting by Allyson Musmeci, with draping set about the small stage in the form of clouds, help give each scene its own ambiance and moment in time. The actors flow in and out of each scene, sometimes abruptly, while at other times more rhythmically and the transitions are viable. It works perfectly. What happens to the characters with each transition is clear, entertaining, and clever. Every actor should see this play.
The two international actors, Francesca Ravera, as Nina, and André Vauthey as Treplev, a young writer, do not miss a beat. These are not easy roles to play, and being able to transition to each scene and carry the moment is a challenge they are certainly up to mastering. I did have a slight problem at a few moments understanding their relatively thick accents, but they managed the English quite nicely and knew just where to speak slower and let the words carry. Emotionally, they were connected and believable in each scene, carrying each “variation” to fruition. Lovely work all around
By the time you read this review, the play may be gone. That’s a shame. But if you do have the chance to see it, go. Tickets can be bought at the door or online at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/the-nina-variations-tickets-52655642444
The new Chain Theatre, a lovely space on 36th Street is located at 312 West 36th Street
on the 4th Floor.