Quinn Bauriedel, Chad Lindsey, James Sugg, Dito van Reigersberg
Returning to New York as part of this year’s Under the Radar Festival, Chekhov Lizardbrain, a strange theatrical concotion from Philadelphia’s Pig Iron Theatre Company – though undeniably imaginative – is often vexing and rarely truly satisfying.
The play begins with a quiet, obsessive, possibly deranged monologue from James Sugg as Dmitri, whose bizarre alter ego is Chekhov Lizardbrain. Soon, the focus shifts to our main character’s real estate endeavors as he reconnects with three brothers, old family friends, as he considers buying their house following the death of their mother.
Set in a nondescript location, the rest of the proceedings change tones and switch perceived time periods, alternating between street-clothes modernism and pantalooned (or, well, long-undearwear-clad) Chekhovian silliness.
Metathetrical at its essence, borrowing from Chekhov’s general style as well as from some elements from his plays (including Three Sisters and The Cherry Orchard), there are occasional moments of bliss on display. The scenes performed in mock-Chekhovian style stand out as most developed; they’re playfully silly like the best of Monty Python’s material. Other moments during the play fall mysteriously flat.
The company, led by James Sugg as Dmitri/Chekhov Lizardbrain, are all interesting-looking and usually fun to watch, though Sugg himself occasionally grates, playing the role of Dmitri as a sort of socially inept indie-movie stereotype. The three brothers into whose lives Dmitri steps are all played with flair and style by Chad Lindsey, Dito van Reigersberg, and Quinn Bauriedel.
As the evening progresses, its absurdities begin to build into something resembling a satisfying theatrical piece. Scenes begin to repeat, duplicated in different styles as a way of shedding light on the alternate realities of its characters. Occasionally, this brings about moments of real panache, but the stakes throughout never quite mount enough to spark more than a few muddled aha moments.
As the evening concludes, Dmitri/Chekhov Lizardbrain (we never quite come to grasp the boundaries of this distinction or the significance of the character’s dual natures) watches the brothers from outside a window, their lives finally shown to be entirely separate from Dmitri, an observer much like Anton Chekhov, whose interactions with the three brothers are entirely imagined.
It’s a clever framing device but one that doesn’t pack much of a wallop, as we’ve never really come to know either of this man’s characters. He is, finally, a type, as all of the characters in the play are types rather than fully fleshed-out characters, and the desire for the production to shed real light on the human condition is fundamentally at odds with its competing desire to playfully send up Chekhovian style.