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This theatrical evening based on the short stories of Anton Chekhov lacks the necessary richness and subtext.

Eddie Allen and Celia Schaefer
in Chekhovek
(© Dan Region)
Anton Chekhov is best known for four of the greatest plays in Western theater, but he was also a prolific and versatile writer of shorter works, ranging from sharp parodies to short stories that are multifaceted and poetic studies of human behavior. Melania Levitsky has adapted nine of those stories into Chekhovek, a two-act theater production now at the ArcLight Theatre.

While there is some pleasure in seeing these lesser-known stories on stage, the rich, subtextual layers essential for even the most farcical of Chekhov's works is largely absent throughout the evening.

For "The Lady with the Dog," a tale of an adulterous affair between a melancholy, young woman (Celia Schaefer) and a considerably older gentleman (Eddie Allen), Levitsky breaks up the story into six parts and scatters it throughout the production.

While Schaefer and Allen are highly accomplished actors, they don't appear to have the appropriate age difference. But what's really missing here is the gravity and complexity that make us care about these lonely souls. One of the elements that drives the original story is the man's ambiguous attitude towards women. He needs them; he disparages them (particularly his wife, played here by Elizabeth Fountain). He's bored with his lover; he's enthralled with her. Here, we're left with an extended scene in a mediocre soap opera.

Chekhovek is most successful with its forays into pure comedy, especially with "Death of a Government Clerk," in which the hapless title character (David Anderson) undergoes a humorously tragic example of not leaving well enough alone. Allen also joins with Rob Leo Roy to bring a slight Abbott and Costello touch to "The Chemist's Wife."

The most disappointing part of the evening is "The Black Monk," which Levitsky renders utterly incomprehensible. This tale of madness and nonconformity, with a touch of the Gothic, is treated as a simple but perplexing vaudeville sketch with much of its context and almost all of its theatrical potential removed.

And for all its pluses and minuses, Chekhovek simply runs too long. The selections should be both fewer and more complete.