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Fortune's Fool

A generation before Anton Chekhov, Ivan Turgenev depicted the deteriorating social conditions in Russia between the serfs, the peasantry, the landed gentry, and the rising bourgeoisie. And like his contemporary, Leo Tolstoy, Turgenev was a reformer, influencing Czar Alexander II's emancipation of the serfs. Known mostly for his novels (Fathers and Sons) and poetry, Turgenev also produced plays (A Month in the Country), including Fortune's Fool, originally known as The Parasite, currently being performed by Everyman Theatre Company.

Although the fissures that eventually produced the Bolshevik revolution had a few generations to go before Mother Russia was torn asunder by class warfare, the tension between the social strata is apparent in Fortune's Fool.

Photo of Missy Moore as Olga and Frederick D. Katona as Yeletsky
Missy Moore as Olga and
Frederick D. Katona
as Yeletsky
Olga is a newly married young woman who returns to her deceased father's estate with her new husband, Yeletsky. Once there, Olga rediscovers a number of childhood acquaintances including Kuzovkin, a one-time gentleman who lost his estate 30 years before and was taken in by Olga's father. Kuzovkin has been looking forward to Olga's return, apparently as a means of re-establishing his position, but runs into opposition from Yeletsky and Yeletsky's newfound friend and neighbor, Tropatchov, a wealthy landowner.

Like Chekhov who drew from him and admired him, Turgenev mixes satire with biting social commentary. The script for Fortune's Fool was adapted by Mike Poulton, who is experienced with Chekhov adaptations as well. After a bumpy ride in it's London debut, Poulton reworked the script and had great success on Broadway last year with Alan Bates as Kuzovkin and Frank Langella as Tropatchov. Critics noted that despite the serious themes, the play was often hilarious.

Photo of Roger Simon as Kuzovkin and Gordon Yates as Ivanov
Roger Simon as Kuzovkin
and Gordon Yates as Ivanov
But just as Chekhov complained that Stanislavski turned his comedies into tragedies, most directors dwell on what they perceive as Slavic angst, and fail to mine the humorous opportunities rife throughout these works. Unfortunately, this production falls into this common trap. The problem, however, does not lie entirely in Chris Tabb's direction. The cast is a mix of multifaceted and one-dimensional actors, whose unevenness erodes the overall comedy and too often turns to hand-wringing when tongue-in-cheek would do.

Photo of John Samson as Tropatchov, Guy Williams as Karpatchov, and Frederick D. Katona as Yeletsky
John Samson as Tropatchov,
Guy Williams as Karpatchov,
and Frederick D. Katona as Yeletsky
A few performances, however, stand out, including Missy Moore's Olga, a woman who must outwit her husband to get her way, John Samson's odious Tropatchov, whose idea of noblesse oblige is a kick in the pants, Guy Williams' Karpatchov, whose mastery of ambiguity would warm Chekhov's heart, and Joseph Wilson's over-the-top Tremblinsky, the bossy steward.

Everyman's Theatre Company's production of Fortune's Fool runs through December 20th in the Pluss Theatre at the Mizel Center for Arts and Culture. 303-346-8943.

Bob Bows

 

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