Like so many of the famous, we know their names… Anton Chekhov, the playwright, Konstantin Stanislavsky, the director and teacher of actors, but we rarely know the person. We can look up what the history books say, but, even that, gives us a distant glance at their lives. It is rare to have a chance of catching a glimpse behind that wall and get to know their thoughts, lives and loves. The play I Take Your Hand in Mine allows us this. By incorporating the four hundred or so letters between Chekov and the German born actress he would eventually marry, Olga Knipper, into the script, we get that glimpse. It takes us beyond the surface ... into their very souls.
This play in one act is beautifully directed by Heinar Pillar. Telling his history in the theatre would take more words than this review can contain. He was the founding Artistic Director for Theatre London and has directed, acted and taught internationally. Here, he shows us how it should be done.
It is never easy to portray that kind of inner turmoil and inner joy that the roller-coaster of life and love throws at us all. The characters in this play move through the joy of early love, the feelings of frustration and loss encountered when living apart, the jealousies and errors that can come from this. The difficulties of surviving fame are to be overcome. Illness is a constant shadow and death is a finale. In this production, it is all there and beautifully performed.
Caroline Dolny Guerlin as Olga gives us the stress of being torn between one's art and one's love and the consequences of following the muse. Although there are times that the performance could come down and be a little softer and quieter showing us the inner Olga, overall there is little to complain about. The character and the actress give us her all.
Heinar Pillar’s Chekov reveals a man exiled from Moscow for long periods by his disease. His desire to be closer to his love is thwarted. The actor makes the writer so very real for us. What more can an audience ask? Chekov’s struggles in writing The Three Sisters and The Cherry Orchard are there. His struggle with his illness is there. His joy and frustration in his love for Olga are there. His comment that Stanislavsky, whose acting methods are still in use, is a good director but a terrible actor is delightful in its delivery.
The technical side is equally as well done. The lighting, costumes and set combine to create just the right mood. The details of the period, rugs, desks, straight pens are all there with the only slightly distracting glow of the silver rings of binders inside the books pulling us out of the time period.
The only disappointment of the evening was not the fault of the director, the actors, the playwright or the technical elements. It was our fault. London. There were far too many seats unoccupied!
Cheryl Jennings is a award winning actress, director and theatre designer who studied acting at the University of Windsor and King Alfred College, England and spent time at the Stratford Festival.