The Black Monk
Austin Pendleton is inappropriately cast in this disappointing chamber musical, based on a Chekhov short story.
Indeed, this work, loosely adapted from Anton Chekhov's 1894 short story, would have been best left in her own chamber. Very little about the show, including the direction of Kevin Newbury or the performances of a cast led by Austin Pendleton, is particularly effective, although Charlie Corcoran's set is nicely conceived; the stage floor curves up several feet at the back to support a walkway on which hints of a wheat field are sometimes displayed.
The musical involves Andrei (Elon Rutberg) who returns from Moscow to take up residence with onetime gardener neighbor Igor (Scott Robertson) and his daughter Tanya (Julie Craig). Unable to get a legend about a monk out of his head, Andrei -- who is not an artist in the Chekhov original -- begins hallucinating about the hooded stranger (Pendleton). His preoccupying thoughts swirl around the monk's goading him to paint, paint, paint (and often in the dead of the night). Although he marries Tanya, their joy is fleeting as he continually disturbs her wee-hours slumber, and his gathering madness predictably leads to no good end.
For her 90-minute, intermissionless piece, Kesselman has created 17 songs and reprises several of them. They have the sweetness of morning dew but like dew vanish quickly when exposed to the light of day. The melodies are undistinguished, and Wesselman's lyrics too often run to rhymed couplets like "Right from the start/He breaks every heart" and constructions like "Give yourself to art/Give yourself to me/Set yourself apart/That's where you must be."
The score is efficiently played by musical director and arranger Christopher Berg and cellist Arthur Cook, who are seated at stage left, and is sung well enough by Rutberg, Robertson, and Craig. But the word "sung" is outrageously inappropriate for Pendleton. For decades, he has been a superb character actor as well as accomplished director and dramatist; but he sadly cannot sing, and should not be doing so in this travesty.