Fin-de-siècle Slavic despair takes center stage at the Volkstheater

If Anton Chekhov had been a painter, his palette would have been bleak, with sudden splashes of red. An astute observer of the human soul, he usually portrayed his tormented characters as misunderstood and helpless.

The eponymous main character of his play Ivanov is a case in point. A middle-aged man with a sick wife and large debts, Ivanov (Jan Thümer) is constantly drowning in self-pity and depression. He nonetheless rejects the support of his friends and the love of his wife Anna (Stefanie Reinsperger), co-existing with them in his own separate reality. He desires a “new life” – which he believes to find in the arms of Sasha (Nadine Quittner), daughter of his friend Lebedev (Günter Franzmeier) and his creditor Zinaida (Steffi Krautz) – but still can’t bring himself to leave his desperation behind.

Noted Hungarian director Victor ­Bodo’s Vienna debut effectively conveys Ivanov’s helplessness by contrasting it with the up-beat mood of the other figures, who also live pointless lives but do not see the tragedy in it. Unfortunately, while the characters expertly underline the features they possess, a sense of exaggeration persists throughout the drama. The excessive nudity and drug use, Borkin’s vulgar jokes, the drawing on the wall ­Ivanov paints during his soliloquy, the mean observations Lebedev makes about his greedy wife or the youthful Sasha, which seem more like those of a spoiled child than a dreamer, simply fail to connect, and relatability suffers.

The enduring charm of Russian literature is in how it haunts the soul, digging deep into your perceptions until you inadvertently reflect on your own life.



Jun 2, 8, 15, 23, Volkstheater