Chekhov Two Ways, with a robot and Baryshnikov for the ride

It grounds the show in historical reality — Baryshnikov portrays the playwright in the digital version, and Hecht appears as Chekhov’s wi...


It grounds the show in historical reality — Baryshnikov portrays the playwright in the digital version, and Hecht appears as Chekhov’s wife and mistress — while nodding to our current troubled situation.

“The miracle of Chekhov’s writing is that no matter where it’s performed, it feels local to the culture,” Baryshnikov wrote in an email. “How that translates into Igor’s version remains to be seen. Obviously he speaks the language in which the play was written, but he takes a lot of risks — technical and artistic — and avoids clichés.

Something that certainly can’t be called a Chekhov cliche is a 12-foot robotic arm, which sits in the middle of the physical stage – it’s part of the family and tries to understand humans – and has been painstakingly programmed to perform tasks such as serving coffee or sweeping the floor. (The production process required many hours of Zoom calls with a technical team spread around the world.)

The juxtaposition of past and future (usually Oana Botez’s costumes for the physical version are a hybrid of period and modern), human and robot looks like another leap for Golyak’s Arlekin Players Theater, based in Needham, Mass., and was the rare company to use the pandemic as a creative boost.

So far it had been a bit difficult. As Golyak, now 43, learned the hard way, a young, Russian-educated director was not a rare commodity on the American theater scene of the early 2000s.

“Nobody wanted me,” he said. “For an immigrant, it’s very difficult: where are you going? How do you start? I had an accent – and still do, of course. I sent resumes but no one called me back. At some point I decided I was going to quit acting because it’s just not possible to make a living. His day jobs included selling ads for the Yellow Pages.

Eventually, Golyak befriended a small group of other immigrants from the former Soviet Union, who asked him to help them work on scenes, to walk them through what worked and what didn’t. He asked for a nine-month contract, and they agreed. Arlekin Players Theater was born from this initiative, in 2009, and the troupe, which then performed mainly in Russian, developed an esprit de corps.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Chekhov Two Ways, with a robot and Baryshnikov for the ride
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