I Take Your Hand In Mine
A play suggested by the love letters of Anton Chekhov and Olga Knipper
by Carol Rocamora
Directed by Benedicta Bertau
at Space 360, Hudson, NY
The radiant face of Bethany Caputo is an eyeball magnet; it sucks all eyeballs to itself. The face has beauty, but the important quality is its ability to take instantaneous cues from her imaginative brain. It allows the character of Olga Knipper, actress, lover, and wife of Anton Chekhov, to roll out with amazing vividness.
Caputo is so accomplished that it is probably ungrateful to notice that her inner ingénue sneaks through just often enough to make one question that she could play Arkadina in The Sea Gull or Masha in The Three Sisters, an appropriateness that Olga’s life and this script demand. It is also probably ungrateful to notice an irritating nasality that creeps into her voice at certain decibels and the few extra pounds that may keep her from being cast in roles she is otherwise right for. But what an actress! I, for one, remain largely grateful.
For many minutes of this play we are watching Chekhov in his consumptive years, so if a person knew nothing of the playwright’s life, s/he wouldn’t suspect the large amount of quality writing that he packed into his few decades on this earth. We are mostly treated to the playwright’s affection for Olga–his almost uxorious attachment to her, and David Anderson delivers it with humor and warmth. Chekhov’s pet names for her that pour out of the letters could be condescending, but not on Anderson’s tongue. (The “pet” in pet names is not metaphorical. A number of them are extravagantly borrowed from animal species!)
It is fun to be told or reminded that Chekhov was often at odds with Stanislavski, his director at the Moscow Art Theater, and that the playwright insisted that The Cherry Orchard is a comedy. But I Take Your Hand In Mine is not about literature or theater; it’s about a loving relationship enjoyed by two extraordinary individuals. In the main, it is Olga’s story.
The set by Katie Jean Wall (red walls with a few velvety, dark-patterned strips, and minimal furniture) takes us quickly to the period. Deena Pewtherer’s lighting transforms the 360 space and subtly underlines the feel of each letter. Transitional music by Jonathan Talbott might appear more frequently, but, as usual, it demonstrates his sensitive ear for the drama.
Even though I Take Your Hand In Mine could be pruned in some spots, we are surprisingly happy to sit watching the same two people in a single setting for a full hour and a half. The play is well-constructed, and where the language of the letters leaves off and Rocamora’s begins, it is smooth. Director Benedicta Bertau has brought the whole to stage in the typical Walking-the-dog manner. In other words, in a sort of poetic shorthand. A little standing for a lot. Because the lovers are often many miles apart, she divides the stage and allows them to speak to each other facing straight front, vividly “seeing.” This has the effect of making us cherish the times when they address each other directly or touch. The moment in which Olga teasingly pulls Chekhov’s beard says more about their intimacy than an athletic sex scene; the moment in which they grasp arms and take one long unison step toward the audience says all about their decision to marry; and the moments in which he directs her acting and she responds with intuitive accuracy are all a telling shorthand. Walking the dog Theater, particularly when either Bertau or Anderson is directing, makes art of it.
The show runs through November 29, with two shows on Saturday, November 28. Call 1-800-838-3006 for tickets or visit wtdtheater.org.