A new off-Broadway work by playwright Richard Nelson takes spectators to a gathering of talented Russian emigres in Connecticut during the spring of 1948. NY1's Roma Torre filed the following review.
It's messy, long and full of wonderful moments, sort of like life. It's also a description of "Nikolai And The Others" by Richard Nelson. With 18 speaking parts, the rambling, fact-based drama takes its sweet time to engage viewers, and for some, the wait may not be worth it. But the right audience is likely to find it richly rewarding.
In 1948, a group of Russian emigres gather in a Connecticut country home to honor their longtime friend and artist, Sergey Sudeikin. At the table are some recognizable names, including choreographer George Balanchine and composer Igor Stravinsky, but most of them will not be familiar.
In the style of a Chekhov play, there's much talk but little action, as the friends, connected through work or family, discuss matters big and small, from petty snipes to their artful ambitions to the motherland. In this time of Cold War, there's an added element of paranoia.
Nelson deserves high praise for sharply defining each one of these 18 characters while capturing the mercurial nature of the artist's soul. Keeping track of who's who is a challenge, but David Cromer’s seamless direction injects much needed clarity and a welcome naturalism.
In a lovely highlight, Balanchine and Stravinsky stage a rehearsal of their classic ballet "Orpheus," featuring Balanchine's wife at the time, Maria Tallchief.
Standouts in the superb ensemble include Michael Cerveris and John Glover as Balanchine and Stravinsky. At nearly 88, Alvin Epstein hasn't lost any of his acting mojo. And Blair Brown as Vera Stravinsky and Stephen Kunken, the much put-upon Nikolai, deliver lessons in the art of listening.
By the end, I felt as if I had just experienced a beautifully detailed novel about some fascinating historic figures. Yes, it's slow and some might say ponderous, but if you have the patience, Nikolai and all the others have much to offer.