Mr. Chekov and Mr. Porter, Medicine Show Theater

"Life has passed by as if I never lived at all"

Mr. Chekhov and Mr. Porter

Medicine Show Theater

Conceived by Regan Vann Batuello
Developed by Janet Bentley & Andy Evan Cohen

Aran Beiderson
Bill Blechingberg
Demetrius Blocker
Daniel Robert Burns
Ivette Dumeng
Felix Eduardo Gardon
Sam Durant Hunter
Justyna Kostek
Shea Madison
Molly Revenson
Cynthia Shaw
Michelle Tsai

Creative Team:
Janet Bentley (Director)
Andy Evan Cohen (Music Director/Arranger)
Madeline Jaye (Choreographer)
Kira Carlton (Rehearsal Stage Manager)
T. Michael Culhane (Production Stage Manager)
Elizabeth Wine (Associate Producer)
Richard Keyser (Lighting Designer/Producer)
Janet Mervin (Costume Designer)
Peter Fasolino (Poster Illustrator)
Janet Bentley (Set Design/Scenic Painting)
Oliver Conant, Madeline Jaye (Scenic Painting)
Al Foote III (Photography)
Jay Michaels (Publicity)
Joseph Woodard Murdock (Production Assistant)

Image courtesy Medicine Show Theater website

February 21

It's a Wednesday evening, and I'm riding my bike uptown on 8th Avenue. Though it's February, the air has been warm and the sun inviting for the scores of New Yorkers emerging from wintry doldrums. There are shorts, flip flops, and even a few Hawaiian shirts for the braver (or less aware?) tourists by Penn Station.

I immediately cringe when water hits my face, thinking it's the strangely disgusting droplets that constantly fall from air conditioners in the summer. You're never quite sure if those droplets are clean water, condensation, random beads of sweat, or maybe even spit. Gross.

A few seconds later, however, the pavement darkens. The early summer sprinkle has broken the humid air and sends umbrellas aloft. I dodge them on my bicycle, violently ringing my bell at anyone who steps into the bike lane.

I arrive at Medicine Show Theater on far West 52nd, lock my bike, and climb the stairs. It's a small space - "cozy" some would describe it - with the undeniable layering of art upon art, paint upon paint, footsteps of actors and directors and audiences accumulating their shared experiences over the years.

I love theaters like this, and not just because they're off the beaten track. Rather, they feel like playgrounds. Yes, experimentation and innovation happens under the lights of the Belasco, Carnegie Hall, and the New Amsterdam, but a different kind of experimentation happens at theaters like these.

Take the production of Mr. Chekov and Mr. Porter, for example. It's a mash-up of grand proportions where long (er...dull?) soliloquies and sentiments from Chekov's most iconic works are replaced with Cole Porter songs. Yes, not only are America and Russia thrust together, but musical theater meets Uncle Vanya and The Seagull with cheeriness and the full force of subtext. It's like fresh and saltwater mixing in a delta.

It's incongruous at times, almost disjointed. As soon as the actors get into their characters they're wrested from touching dialogue into a song-and-dance number. Shea Madison's performance as Nina shone in her final Seagull moments, but more time could have been dedicated to Chekov's deep observations of ordinary life in order to effectively contrast it with bouncy Porter show tunes such as You Irritate Me So.

When a character in the closing number reflects "Life has passed by as if I never lived at all," I felt connected to the lives of both Porter and Chekov. They accomplished what so many of us dream: a lasting legacy. Life passes us all eventually, it passed them, but they continue to live in the songs and words of theaters like this one.

Despite its structural weaknesses, the fact that Mr. Chekov and Mr. Porter exists is a triumph. Theater thrives when it's a dialogue between actor and audience, and with the added element of multiple artists, eras, artistic styles, and themes we can reach dialogue of a different magnitude.

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