'Nothing Sacred' fails to capitalize on Turgenev's original

April 07, 1995|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,Sun Theater Critic

Unlike "Love and Anger" and "Escape from Happiness" -- the gritty, contemporary, urban plays by George F. Walker that have been previously seen in this city -- the Canadian playwright's most popular script takes place in rural 19th century Russia.

A loose adaptation of Ivan Turgenev's "Father and Sons," "Nothing Sacred" is receiving its local premiere at Fell's Point Corner Theatre, which staged a highly charged production of "Love and Anger" last season.

Life is said to move more slowly in the country -- and in the past as well -- and that's certainly true of the pace of this production.

Altering or eliminating characters and subplots, and taking liberties with Turgenev's ending, Walker's script focuses on the generation gap between Bazarov, a rebellious nihilist, and Pavel, the aristocratic uncle of Bazarov's university classmate, Arkady.

Bazarov and Pavel clash over more than philosophical differences, however. They also are in love with the same woman, Anna. The two men have something else in common -- a lack of self-knowledge.

Though Bazarov disdains sentiment, emotions and, well, just about everything, he turns out to have an old-fashioned soft spot for his fellow man. Pavel, the self-professed romantic, has maintained that pose only by falling in love with unattainable women.

Director Denise Ratajczak has reinforced the play's theme of the underlying similarity between the feuding generations by casting a father and son in the roles of Pavel and Bazarov. Indeed, the arrogance with which Bruce Godfrey's Pavel upholds his aristocratic position is not all that different from the arrogance with which Jason L. Godfrey's Bazarov assails that position.

As Anna, the woman who attracts both men -- and later attracts Arkady as well -- Mimi Teahan initially seems to be Bazarov's cynical soul mate. In the end, however, she also is shown to have a warm heart beating beneath her chilly veneer.

That revelation makes her a suitable partner for Arkady, who, in contrast to Bazarov, has a close relationship with the older generation. This is reinforced by Stephen Antonsen's compassionate performance as Arkady and by Grant Carrington's similarly gentle portrayal of his kind father, Nikolai.

The supporting performances are uneven, but two of the more effective are Natalie Trifonov's portrayal of Nikolai's sweet-natured young mistress, and Thurston Griggs' portrayal of an elderly household retainer who's wiser than he lets on.

Turgenev set "Fathers and Sons" in 1859, on the brink of a period of reform in Russia. But if the differences between the generations -- the new vs. the old -- are less than they appear to be, then what does that say about the differences between new and old political orders? The question is as timely as ever, but its timeliness is obscured in this production.

Admittedly, period dramas are tricky to stage, and conveying class distinctions in 19th-century Russia is especially difficult. Costumes and speech can help, but these clues are often blurred here. In the end, instead of showing how lively and modern Turgenev can be, Fell's Point Corner's "Nothing Sacred" frequently has the hidebound feel of a museum piece. Somewhere along the line, the word "everything" seems to have replaced "nothing" in the title.

"Nothing Sacred"

Where: Fell's Point Corner Theatre, 251 S. Ann St.

When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. (No performance April 16.) Through April 23

Tickets: $10

Call: (410) 276-7837

** 1/2

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