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Different Venues, Different Reactions for ‘Nothing Sacred’

Times Theater Critic

One of the best things about the resident theater network is that a new play can now make its way around the country without having to stop off first in New York.

This season’s best example is “Nothing Sacred,” Canadian playwright George F. Walker’s stage version of Turgenev’s “Fathers and Sons.” We had its U. S. premiere at the Mark Taper Forum in September. This month, separate productions opened at Chicago’s Northlight Theatre in Chicago, and at the Hartford, Conn., Stage. Later the play will be seen at San Francisco ‘s American Conservatory Theatre and at the Seattle Repertory Theatre.

Press reaction to “Nothing Sacred” has been as mixed as it was in Los Angeles.

Richard Christiansen of the Chicago Tribune called it a “literate” and “stimulating” reworking of the Turgenev classic. But Hedy Weiss of the Chicago Tribune thought that Walker had “turned a wise, deftly written story into a smug, clanking satire.” David Petrarca’s Northlight staging was either “superficial” (Weiss) or “brisk” (Christiansen.)

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Mel Gussow of the New York Times went up to see James Simpson’s Hartford Stage production, and found it occasionally effective, but somewhat “remote"--perhaps because Walker’s purpose in retelling the story seemed “deflationary” rather than celebratory.

Malcolm Johnson of the Hartford Courant found Simpson’s production “full of bright ideas” (a junk-strewn set, symbolizing Russia’s defunct old order). But Johnson didn’t think Walker had added anything to Turgenev’s novel by bringing in American and Canadian parallels. (The Hartford Stage production was subtitled “A Canadian comedy, not a Russian tragedy.”)

Kevin Kelley of the Boston Globe, though, was taken with the whole thing--script, production concept, performances (particularly Christian Baskous as the nihilist revolutionary, Bazarov).

“An exhilarating piece of work,” Kelley wrote. “And despite the anachronistic overlay, the play is indubitably and crucially Russian. There may be maple leaves blowing in the wind, but the wind itself begins on the treeless steppes.”

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With other productions of Walker’s play to come, there’ll be other approaches and other responses. Is this any way to run a national theater? Yes.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK. Playwright Wendy Wasserstein, author of “The Heidi Chronicles,” to Newsday reporter Janice Berman: “Why you write a play in your room is to get in a room with actors.”


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