Monday, 5 January 2015

Moira Buffini's adaptation of Nicolai Erdman's DYING FOR IT at the Atlantic Theater Company

     Actually, DYING FOR IT is a free adaptation of Nicolai Erdman's 1930 play, THE SUICIDE. Erdman's work was banned by Stalin's government and was not seen in Russia until 1990. I don't know the original, so don't know what is Erdman and what is the work of British playwright Moira Buffini. DYING FOR IT was first produced at the Almeida Theatre in London. The British seem to love twentieth century Russian plays. The National has produced a lot of Gorki's work in the past decade. Erdman's comedy reminds me of Gorki's work.
     The story of DYING FOR IT is a simple one. It is 1930 and Semyon (Joey Slotnick) is out of work and living in a ramshackle apartment building (great multi-level set by Walt Spangler) with his wife, his mother-in-law (the always wonderful Mary Beth Peil) and various other tenants. Hungry, frustrated and nagged at by his wife and mother-in-law, Semyon contemplates suicide. Somehow word leaks out of his intention and a variety of craven souls including a political idealist, a poet, an orthodox priest and a very romantic female urge him to include their causes in his suicide note. All of them are representatives of what's left of the bourgeoisie. Though constructed as a farce (lots of doors in the set), the play is amusing but not laugh-out-loud funny.
     DYING FOR IT is a big show for a small theater.-- a cast of twelve and original music played on violin and accordion. Neil Pepe has directed it competently, but the production is a bit heavy-handed. It's not clear from Pepe's production exactly why DYING FOR IT is being produced. Given the current economic inequality in the US, the play could be presented as a commentary on current conditions rather than a piece of theater history. Pepe hasn't quite decided whether to present the comedy realistically or as farce. The cast of veteran character actors is uniformly fine.
     The full house yesterday afternoon found the play mildly amusing.
DYING FOR IT. Atlantic Theater Company Mainstage. January 4, 2014.