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Chekhov Lizardbrain

Pig Iron Theatre Company's weird but compelling show is inspired by the plays of Anton Chekhov and the triune brain theory.

By New York City
Dito van Reigersberg, James Sugg, and Geoff Sobelle
in Chekhov Lizardbrain
(© Pig Iron)
Dito van Reigersberg, James Sugg, and Geoff Sobelle
in Chekhov Lizardbrain
(© Pig Iron)
You may leave the theater scratching your head at the end of Chekhov Lizardbrain, Pig Iron Theatre Company's weird but compelling show making its New York premiere at the Ohio Theater. The work features text by Robert Quillen Camp and direction by Dan Rothenberg, but is billed as being "conceived and created" by the company, which rightly places the emphasis on the oddball characterizations of its four-person cast.

The piece is a memory play in the most literal sense. The show's master of ceremonies, Chekhov Lizardbrain (James Sugg), brings us into the mind of Dmitri (also Sugg) who reminisces on his experience of buying a house from three brothers -- Nicholas/Nikolai (Dito van Reigersberg), Peter/Pyotr (Gabriel Quinn Bauriedel), and Sascha (Geoff Sobelle) -- who are sometimes Russian, and sometimes not. Since the whole situation is in Dmitri's mind, he has a habit of misremembering or at times, completely reinventing the nature of his interactions with the brothers. Sometimes, the characters acknowledge they are reenacting Dmitri's memories, and sometimes they seem unaware that they are doing so.

While the performance does not replicate any of Anton Chekhov's plays, it is an homage to them (and particularly The Three Sisters) that touches upon some of the famous playwright's recurring themes, including disillusionment, the coldness of winter, and the inevitability of change. Also interpolated into the work is the company's research into the triune brain theory postulated by neurologist Paul MacLean. Pig Iron isn't trying to adhere to scientific principles, however, and a detailed knowledge of the theory is unnecessary for the enjoyment of the piece. What the company appears to be more interested in is finding different acting styles to correspond to the three aspects of the brain and their respective functions.

Sugg successfully creates two separate and convincing personas as the socially awkward Dmitri and the bizarre, yet confident Chekhov Lizardbrain. He vocally (and sometimes physically) transforms himself, and brings out the humor in lines that you wouldn't think had any laughter potential in them. The other three actors have two sides to their performances, as well, with a stylized vaudevillian manner when they are "Russian" and a more naturalistic mode of acting at other moments.

The entire enterprise has a dream-like feel to it, with the characters sometimes appearing fully dressed and at other times running around in long underwear (costume design is by Olivera Gajic). The red curtain in Anna Kiraly's simple yet effective set design parts to reveal a backdrop that looks like segments of a brain, but also resembles a cave.

What it all means, however, is unclear. As an experiment in form and acting style, it's an engaging endeavor that is often amusing. But as a story, it lacks coherence -- and perhaps that's even intentional.


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