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Release: May 20, 2002
UI theater artists take new Chekhov variations back to Russia
Taking an American version of Chekhov to Russia might seem to be an improbable,
coals to Newcastle undertaking. But University of Iowa Department
of Theatre Arts faculty member Carol MacVey and graduate students Mollie Mook
and Robert Wray are doing just that, as the first Americans ever to perform
at the International Chekhov Festival at Chekhov's estate in Melikhovo, about
50 miles south of Moscow.
They departed on May 16 with a production of Steven Deitzs The
Nina Variations, in which two characters from Chekhovs The
Seagull are offered many new chances to get it right. MacVey explains,
Dietz has used the two young characters, Nina and Treplev, and shaped
42 short variations on what these two might have said, could have said or
should have said at various junctures in their meetings. Their talk revolves
around the questions of what it means to be a playwright, what it means to
be an actor, and what it means to love.
This springs opportunity to perform in Russia resulted from MacVeys
research for her new translation of The Seagull, which she directed
this season at the UI.
Last August, while doing research for my production of The Seagull,
I visited the Chekhov estate, where he lived when he wrote the play,
she says. After a picnic lunch with the director of the museum estate,
he invited me to see their little theater, the site of their yearly international
Chekhov conference, where scholars and researchers present papers on various
Chekhov studies and theater companies present pieces either by or about Chekhov.
When he learned that I was to direct The Seagull, he invited
me to bring that production to the festival. They had never had Americans
present anything before. I told him I probably couldn't afford to bring an
entire cast but that I would look for something much smaller that we could
present. Hence, the choice of The Nina Variations, which I directed
in 1999 for University Theatres Second Stage.
The conference invitation soon developed into in a more ambitious undertaking.
In the spirit of variations I invited Victor Goultchenko,
founder and director of the International Chekhov Fund, to collaborate with
me in this way: He would also direct the play in Russia with two actors and
we would merge the two productions. Some scenes would be done by two Russian
actors, some by our two actors, and some scenes would be performed by one
Russian and one American, each speaking his/her native language.
Fortunately we were funded through the generosity of CREES (the Center
for Research in Eastern European Studies) under the direction of Russell Valentino
, a professor in the UI Russian Department. The office for the UI Vice President
for Research also generously assisted us, so that we will be able to perform
not only at the Melikhovo International Chekhov Festival, but also in Moscow
at the Central Actors' House, oldest actor training institute in Russia, and
at the Alexandrinsky Imperial Theatre in St. Petersburg, where The Seagull
was first performed in 1896!
And through contacts with Vicki Hesli of the Political Science Department,
were also traveling to the Ukraine to perform at Kievs Taras Shevshenko
University in Kiev, a university with which the UI has a partnership. The
plan is for the Russian director and the two Russian actors to visit the UI
The Nina Variations premiered in 1996 at the Contemporary American
Theatre Festival and the UI production used a subsequent revision.
Dietz is one of Americas most prolific -- and most produced -- playwrights,
with more than 20 plays to his credit, including Lonely Planet,
Private Eyes, Gods Country, More Fun Than
Bowling, Dracula, Still Life With Iris, Halcyon
Days and Trust. His plays have been produced by more than
200 regional and off-Broadway theaters.
His honors include the 1994 PEN Center USA West Award in drama, a Drama-Logue
Award, an Outer Critics Circle Nomination and grants from the Jerome
Foundation, the Knight Foundation and the Kennedy Center Fund for New American
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