Ethan Hawke stars in a mostly solid revival of Chekhov's first major play

By Thom Geier
Updated November 13, 2012 at 05:00 AM EST
Joan Marcus

As the audience enters Off Broadway’s Classic Stage Company revival of Ivanov, Ethan Hawke is already on stage. As the melancholic title character of Anton Chekhov’s early breakout play, Hawke reclines on a day bed, half-heartedly attempting to read or pulling a towel over his head. It’s the 1880s, long before Prozac, but Ivanov has plenty of cause to be depressed. He’s a cash-strapped landowner in provincial Russia and his wife, Anna (a lovely Joely Richardson), is dying of tuberculosis.

In addition to depression, Ivanov and virtually all of the men in Chekhov’s drama suffer from another affliction: acute narcissism. The playwright deploys this trait both for comedy — the bridge-obsessed Kosykh (James Patrick Nelson) is a deliberate bore — and for tragedy, chiefly in the form of Anna’s pompously self-righteous doctor Lvov (Jonathan Marc Sherman), who campaigns publicly against what he perceives as Ivanov’s ill treatment of Anna. The most self-aware man on stage may be Shabelsky, a quip-ready count played with scene-stealing glee by George Morfogen.

Director Austin Pendleton, working with a mostly faithful translation by Carol Rocamora, belatedly stepped into the role of fellow landowner Lebedev, whose wife is one of Ivanov’s chief creditors. As Lebedev’s young daughter, Sasha, Juliet Rylance is a study in youthful bad judgment as she seems irresistibly, ill-advisedly drawn to the troubled Ivanov.

Pendleton’s production has some hiccups in pacing, particularly in the first act, but the chief shortcoming in this solid but uneven production is Hawke himself. The raspy-voiced star takes an actorly approach to the role, straining his neck to contort himself into the image of psychological distress. It’s an almost manic take on melancholia, a contradiction that makes his character’s trajectory feel more like the stuff of melodrama than tragedy. B

(Tickets: or 866-811-4111)