Love has a tendency to make fools out of people, and that is certainly the case in Three Days in the Country, Patrick Marber’s condensed adaptation of Ivan Turgenev’s A Month in the Country, now in its west coast premiere at Antaeus Theatre Company in Los Angeles. The action unfolds on a sprawling estate in the Russian countryside, home to an eccentric cast of characters whose lives are upended by their various romantic whims and the arrival of a dreamy new tutor.
Directed by Andrew Paul, this is a story where nearly every character is in love, but nearly all of it is unrequited. Natalya Petrova (Nike Doukas in the “Blunderers” cast, which was seen for this review) is the perpetually bored matriarch. Her husband, Arkady (Antonio Jaramillo) is always busy working and rarely around, so to amuse herself she invites her longtime friend and confidant, Rakitin (Leo Marks) to spend some time at the house for no discernible reason other than that she likes the attention—except this is considerably less fun for Rakitin, who has been hopelessly in love with Natalya for decades. Natalya has recently hired a new tutor, Belyaev (Peter Mendoza) for her young son, Kolya (Elijah Justice). It does not take long for no fewer than three women to fall head over heels in love, or at least lust, with Belyaev—Vera (Jeanne Syquia), Natalya’s teenage ward, Katya (Lila Dupree), a family servant, and Natalya herself.
This is far from the extent of the action, which is enough to make one think everyone in the house is drunk on a love potion. Bolshintsov (Alberto Isaac), a well-meaning yet awkward older neighbor, seeks Vera’s hand in marriage. Matvey (Jay Lee), another member of the household staff, is beside himself that Katya has fallen out of love with him. And finally, Shpigelsky (Armin Shimerman), the bumbling family doctor, is looking to settle down with Lizaveta (Lily Knight), but she has some reservations about his proposal. Observing from the background and rounding out the cast are Anna (Lorna Raver), Arkady’s mother, and Schaaf (Marcelo Tubert), a tutor.
What you see on the surface of Three Days in the Country is essentially what you get. It is a soapy period piece in which, at various times, the characters literally play the card game Hearts, which is too obvious to even be called a metaphor. There are also farcical elements to the comedic story—a lot of people being walked in on, many near-misses and misunderstandings. The set and staging come across as a bit conventional and unimaginative, not adding any dynamism to the proceedings. The action generally moves along at an acceptable pace, although the vast number of storylines that require wrapping up in the latter moments of act two approaches tedium.
Much of the cast is excellent, with Shimerman as the standout. His scene with Knight in act two wherein their characters discuss the potential pros and cons of getting married is the most charming and entertaining in the entire piece, and garnered rare mid-play applause from the opening weekend audience. It is interesting that Belyaev is in some ways the most pivotal character in the play, but also the one we know the least about. Mendoza plays him as an inscrutable and stoic blank slate, suggesting that perhaps all of these women are falling at his feet because he is a new novelty in their dull and isolated lives rather than because he has a sparkling personality. Marks is another scene-stealer, bringing dry and snarky humor to poor Rakitin, who is summoned by his longtime love only for him to watch her fall for another man under his nose.
Natalya is nearly impossible to root for as a character, given that she destroys nearly every meaningful relationship in her life on what is essentially a whim, and her actions quickly grow tiresome. Even the central love triangle, or love polygon if you will, ultimately comes across as women acting rashly and irrationally while a man stands innocently at the center. The whole of Three Days in the Country is ultimately less than the sum of its parts. While certain storylines and performances are very entertaining, the production as a whole falls a bit flat, although those looking for an occasionally whimsical romantic comedy may find it appealing.
Three Days in the Country runs at the Kiki & David Gindler Performing Arts Center in Glendale through August 26th. The running time is two hours and 30 minutes with one intermission. Performances are Mondays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 2pm. This production is partner cast and the actors mentioned in this review will not perform on all dates. For a performance schedule broken down by cast, click here. Tickets start at $30 and can be purchased here.