The Forbidden Love of Zaharii Zograph | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

The Forbidden Love of Zaharii Zograph 

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The Forbidden Love of Zaharii Zograph, Strange Ways Repertory Company, at the Holy Covenant United Methodist Church. This is not a play so much as a reading of a moderately spooky short story, translated and adapted by Tonika Todorova and A. David Shaeffer from Pavel Spassov's Bulgarian original. Presented by flickering candlelight in an old church, the story is evocative enough but never justifies the decision to put it on a stage.

The play's construction is almost willfully counterdramatic and distanced from the audience, as Father Lavrentii recalls a story he heard long ago from Zaharii Zograph, an iconographer. Though the story concerns Zaharii's lifelong passion for the girl next door (Todorova), she appears only at the end and then behind a scrim. Glenn Fahlstrom, as both Lavrentii and Zaharii, brings great urgency to his performance, but his physical vocabulary is too limited to enable him to distinguish the characters, let alone command the stage for an hour and a half.

Nor is the tale that compelling. There's an interesting meditation on the parallel between curiosity and lust, and another on how Zaharii fuses his two forbidden desires--for this woman and for artistic freedom--by painting every saint with her face; but these thoughts are insufficient to sustain the evening. Perhaps appreciation requires a greater understanding than I have of Orthodoxy or of the eastern European literary tradition. As it is, though, the piece made me want to go home and break out the Dostoyevsky.

--Kelly Kleiman

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