Love is in the air this Valentine’s Day and there may be no better theatrical exploration on the theme than Classic Stage Company’s brilliant and heart-tugging staging of Ivan Turgenev’s A Month in the Country.
In a lush new translation by John Christopher Jones, A Month in the Country follows the romantic inklings of bored, bourgeois housewife Natalya Patrovna (Taylor Schilling) as she navigates her feelings for longtime family friend Mikhail Rakitin (Peter Dinklage) as well as an unanticipated brief affair with her son’s handsome tutor Aleksey (Mike Faist)—all the while keeping her mostly unsuspecting husband (Anthony Edwards) at bay. The romantic web becomes further complicated when Natalya’s ward, Vera (Megan West), also falls for the lad and a plan unhatches between Natalya and the family doctor, Shpigelsky (Thomas Jay Ryan) to marry the girl off to the bumbling but well-to-do Bolshintsov (Peter Appel).
Mark Wendland’s set, a country estate literally split in half with the roof precariously dangling over the action to create a neutral playground for the character’s follies, provides a playground in which the actors can deeply dive into the rich text. A birch forest planks the theater’s back wall, subtly alluding to a sense of entrapment among all the romantic flourishings. And under Erika Schmidt’s direction, the play sizzles with subtext that theatergoers know they can only get from the cannon of Russian greats like Turgenev and Chekhov.
While A Month in the Country is an ensemble piece, Schilling (Orange is the New Black) is its star calendar girl, delivering a riveting, complex performance that twists and turns as quickly as her fleeting affections. Costumed in a range of iridescent, billowing dresses designed by Tom Broecker, she is a ravishing onstage presence, which only makes Natalya’s desperate grasps at affection that much more devastating to watch.
But love runs deep in Turgenev’s work and the men in Natalya’s life have their fair share of heartache. Dinklage’s (Game of Thrones) performance is a respectable one as the close family friend who knows at heart that he will never see his love come to fruition. “It’s pretty comical, though. My leaving. As if I saw myself as ‘Dangerous,’” he says before departing the estate, then spewing to Aleksey, “You’ll find the hate in love… In the end, you will know how little you get in return for all that love of yours.”
As Aleksey, Faist exudes the unpretentious handsomeness of an undiscovered runway model, with unkempt dirty blonde hair, pouty lips, and a simple and honest disposition that easily captivates both Natalya as well as her young ward. He, too, eventually leaves, as does Vera—all deserting the suffocating estate.
Upon Rakitin’s departure, Natalya spews, “Yes, I know he’s a GOOD man. You are, all of you, such Good people… All of you, All… and yet… and yet…” She storms off, enraged by the confines of her own situation, a changing society that she has yet to grasp, unrequited love—and who knows what else. It is a fueled final exit, one that leaves the audience wishing that a month in the country could last a bit longer.
A Month in the Country
Classic Stage Company
136 East 13th Street
Through February 22