Leave Me Alone! turns Chekhov into a public service announcement | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

Leave Me Alone! turns Chekhov into a public service announcement 

And, in the process, gives the entire ending away.

click to enlarge leave_me_alone-11.jpg

David Hagen

At first Paul Michael Thomson's Leave Me Alone! looks like a conventional update on Ivanov, the early (1887) play by Anton Chekhov, about a minor government official whose misfortunes, rotten choices, and internal contradictions push him to the brink and beyond. Thomson exchanges the twilight of the czars for the era of Trump; his Ivanov, a liberal state representative, checks his texts and watches his polling numbers.

The adaptation is more than an update, though. And also far less. Thomson and director Matt Bowdren turn this debut production from the Story Theatre into a 95-minute public service announcement about gay identity and suicide: well-meant but clumsy and reductive.

In the original, Nikolai Ivanov has a dying wife, a crushing debt, and a, well, Chekhovian angst. The only potentially bright spot in his life is Sasha, the 20-year-old daughter of a friend, who idolizes him. Yet even her devotion misfires when Ivanov is observed failing to resist her kisses. Later, the widowed Ivanov's wedding to Sasha misfires in a very different sense.

Thomson's Sasha is a young man named Sam, and his Ivanov falls into sexual confusion when their relationship gets romantic. In a gesture that (a) telegraphs the ending and (b) creates the atmosphere of an educational presentation, the playwright has cast members step out of character at regular intervals to deliver quotes about the nature of suicide. We're not only told where this is going but what to think about it. Ivanov's sufferings are paradoxically simplified and, in Bowdren's inchoate staging, mystified at the same time. A solid ensemble can't repair the damage. (Side note: Somebody please put Gaby Moldovan in a good show. I'm tired of seeing her be interesting against all odds.)   v

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