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Friday, October 2, 2009

Ivanov and his High Class Problems


I arrived at the ViaDuct Theater ready to see a Russian play. Even though I had known Ivanov had some comic flavor, I was very much prepared for something tragic and depressing. Ivanov did not disappoint in the least. A midlife crisis story, written in the late 1800s about a landowner and his high-faulting friends, Ivanov is riddled with bad love, greed, betrayal, and lots of Vodka. This is not the play to attend if Blue Man happens to be sold out, but it is definitely worth a once over.

Ivanov is a Russian play written by Anton Chekhov and originally performed in 1887. This particular production is being presented by SiNNERMAN Ensemble and was written and directed by Sheldon Patinkin. Sheldon's theater credentials start at being a founding member of Second City, and is far from over when you find out he is currently the chair of the Theater Department of Columbia College Chicago. SiNNERMAN, on the other hand, are ten artists who met at the School of Steppenwolf back in 2005, since then they have expanded to having 12 members. This all seems like a recipe for a great show, and some of the show is just that, but unfortunately some things fail to impress.

The writing in Ivanov is top notch, barring a few overly noticeable Russian references, the language used was approachable, and more often than not, seamless. The set design was sparse and suitable; the lighting, on the other hand, tended to be weak every time the story left the stage area. The performances were all over the place: some were stellar, others fell flat; I did see a preview, but some of the cast definitely need more time to understand their characters.

Sue Redman was exhilarating as Sasha, a character introduced in the second act, It helped that Sasha was young, vibrant, and as a character, she had the least 'doom and gloom' outlook on life (remember this is a Russian play.) I want to express that Sue's performance was not just about her character, but more about how she understood Sasha- who she was and why she was in the position that she found herself. She didn't just memorize the lines, she knew what they meant and why she was saying them. The same goes for Howie Johnson as Pasha, a neighbor of the lead, Nikolai Ivanov.

The lead, Jeremy Fisher, was one of two performance issues I had with this production. Jeremy can memorize the hell out of some lines- I'll give him that, but I was constantly looking to the reactions of his counterparts on stage to figure out what emotion Ivanov was expressing. It seemed as if Jeremy had no idea what the words he was spouting meant. This was your lead of a Russian play, he is absolutely distraught, and yet Jeremy only goes through the motions. He can drool on cue, but he just can't deliver the lines.

My other issue is with Ryan Martin, again memorizing like a Christian, but his performance lacked in the delivery. Beyond that, I was happy to see the passionate performances by most of the remaining cast and I would like to thank them all for helping me figure out what was going on with Ivanov.

Ivanov will be held at the Viaduct Theater, 3111 N. Western Ave., Chicago, IL 60618.

The show opens Thursday, October 1, 2009, 7:30 p.m. Runs Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., and Sundays at 5 p.m. Preview on September 30 at 7:30 p.m.; Daylight Saving ends November 1.

For tickets, phone: 773-296-6024. Tickets are also available at and

Tickets cost: $20 general admission - please note that the Viaduct Box Office adds a $1 phone and $4 on-line service charge to the below listed prices.

Ticket prices:

$30 on Saturday, October 3 for Wine, Cheese and Chat Opening Celebration

$15 student/industry Thursdays and Sundays (with ID, door purchase only)

$15 special tickets (door purchase only) for these special shows:

Sunday, October 11 "I'd rather see a play than run 26 miles" Marathon Show

Halloween weekend, Friday, October 30, and Saturday, October 31

"Theatre is the original costume party" (costumes encouraged)

Pay-what-you-can for September 30th preview

Group rates for eight or more available - call 773-296-6024

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