NY Review: 'The Storm'

Blessed Unrest at the Interart Theatre

Reviewed by Ron Cohen

April 15, 2012


Photo by Alan Edwards
In the program for its production of "The Storm," Blessed Unrest, a company self-described as "theater for the adventurous," says that its development methods include "Suzuki, Viewpoints, modern dance, Grotowski, jazz improvisation, mime, and Lecoq." Almost all of them are evident in this rendering of "The Storm," a 19th-century Russian drama by Aleksandr Ostrovsky, with its emphasis on intense physicality, sound, grotesque characterizations, and "poor theater" technical effects (the onstage metal sheet for thunder, the tin cans suspended above and dripping water to create rain). Translator-adapter Laura Wickens has pared down Ostrovsky's text to bare-bones plot to serve as a framework for the concepts of director-choreographer Jessica Burr and her dedicated company of eight actors (including Wickens).

Gone are Ostrovsky's harsh observations of the Russian merchant society of his time as well as the specific references to time and place. What's left is a fable of tragic illicit love. Katrina, married to mama's boy Tikhon, is taken with Boris, a young fellow in thrall to his uncle, who controls his inheritance. When Tikhon goes on a business trip, love blossoms, but the affair is quickly discovered. Boris' uncle sends him away, and Katrina, consumed with guilt and despair, commits suicide.

Interpolated are extended passages of eccentric movement and music. Some merely distract from whatever's left of Ostrovky's play; others, however, work wonderfully well. The wordless passage depicting the rising heat of Katrina and Boris's clandestine meetings is a triumph of acting, choreography, and sound design. The deeply felt, naturalistic performances of Tim Eliot and Zenzelé Cooper as the lovers also give the show a welcome sense of reality, contrasted against the stylized portrayals elsewhere in the cast. Cooper's suicide scene is heartbreaking.

There is much to be admired in the skill and imagination exhibited here, including the expansive set by Benjamin C. Gevelow that includes a river of real water, the mixed-period costumes of Summer Lee Jack, Damen Scranton's sound design, and the music of Dave Edson. Ultimately, though, there's simply too much technique and too little play. I couldn't help wishing that scene study had been included among the methods used by this obviously talented and adventurous company.

Presented by the Interart Theatre Development Series at the Interart Theatre, 500 W. 52nd St., NYC. April 14–May 7. Mon. and Sun., 7 p.m.; Fri. and Sat., 8 p.m. (Mon., April 16, performance is at 8 p.m.) (646) 238-0829 or www.blessedunrest.org.
 

 
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