Monday, May 20, 2013 at 8:29 a.m.
Kyle Fabel (Lavretsky) and Suzy Kohane (Liza) in the Guthrie Theater's production of The Primrose Path.
Photo by T. Charles Erickson
Going to The Primrose Path, the world-premiere production now at the Guthrie Theater, means watching a show at war with itself.
Is it a comedy? A romance? A commentary on the Russian ruling class during the middle of the 19th century? The script never can decide, leaving the audience with a bumpy ride.
As a production, it is best when it hews closely to the doomed romance (come on, it's Russian; what did you expect?) at its core. Lavretsky and Elizaveta are both trapped by circumstance. Lavretsky is trapped by a decision he made as a younger man; Elizaveta is about to make her own.
They are surrounded by a gang of dunderheaded gentry, led by Elizaveta's mother, Maria, and her suitor, Panshin. They are so annoying, in fact, that you wish the Russian revolution would come seven decades early to just shut them up.
Playwright Crispin Whittell adapted the play from a novel by Russian author Ivan Turgenev (original title: the unwieldy Home of the Gentry), working closely with director Roger Rees along the way.
I can see what they are trying for here: a comedy of manners with a tragic core, but the manners side so dominates the proceedings that it is easy to forget about the potential lovers at the core. The two are offstage for long stretches during act two, leaving Maria, Panshin, and a third, equally horrid, character to dominate the stage. The results aren't pretty, and not particularly entertaining.
It doesn't help that the actors have ramped up these characters to the breaking point, moving beyond the level of funny into the realm of just annoying. Think of fingernails on chalkboard (kids, ask your parents), amplified through a wall of Marshall amplifiers.
It does help to mark the contrast between the groups of characters, and makes the more naturalistic performances by Kyle Fabel as Lavretsky and Suzy Kohane as Elizaveta stand out. The pair have solid chemistry together and Kohane's performance as a young, devout woman is a breath of fresh air in an otherwise loud and stagnant show.
IF YOU GO:
Opens Friday, through June 15
The Guthrie Theater
818 S. Second St., Minneapolis
For tickets and more information, call 612.377.2224 or visit online.