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The Kreutzer Sonata

This pulsating adaptation of Leo Tolstoy's novella about a man accused of murdering his wife is also full of delicacy and subtlety.

By New York City
Hilton McRae in The Kreutzer Sonata
(© Dixie Sheridan)
Hilton McRae in The Kreutzer Sonata
(© Dixie Sheridan)
Jealous passion and brutal sexual energy course just underneath the surface of The Kreutzer Sonata, now playing at La MaMa E.T.C.. But this production, which has come to New York from the U.K.'s Gate Theatre, also boasts a surprising, and thoroughly engaging delicacy and subtlety.

Carefully and gently adapted by Nancy Harris from Leo Tolstoy's novella of the same name, the piece centers on Pozdynyshev (Hilton McCrae), a man en route to a concert which he is loathe to attend.

As the train he is on wends its way through the Russian countryside, Pozdynyshev takes his travelling companions -- i.e. the audience -- into his confidence about his past, his dissolute days as a bachelor, and his subsequent marriage to a younger woman. Eventually, he describes the events which led to his murdering her (a crime for which he has just been acquitted).

It's the sort of tale that could easily devolve into melodrama onstage, but thanks in part to the meticulous direction of Natalie Abrahami, the story brims with the sort of nail-biting urgency that one associates with a classic thriller by Alfred Hitchcock.

As McCrae delivers his confessional, he rarely raises his voice, even when Pozdynyshev begins to describe the distance that developed between himself and his wife and his increasing suspicions about her growing closeness with an old friend of his, the violinist, Truskhachevski. And it's the bond that these two have over music that sends Pozdynyshev over the edge.

There's a grace and elegance to McCrae's performance that belies the intense emotion underneath the character's surface poise. Indeed, the performer has genuinely taken one of the character's philosophies to bear in this superb turn: "There's no greater mask for immorality than manners."

Audiences will also marvel at the lush visceral details in the production from the soft rumble of the train that underscores the entirety of the production to Mark Howland's sensuously undulating lighting design. And scenic designer Chloe Lamford is responsible for the rustic 19th-century train interior that also allows Abrahami to achieve the show's true coup de theatre.


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