Review Fix chats with Regan Vann Batuello, the co-artistic director for “Mr. Chekhov and Mr. Porter,” currently running at The Medicine Show Theatre, 549 West 52nd Street, NYC. Discussing the production and what makes it unique, Batuello gives us an inside look at his creative process.
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Review Fix: What was the inspiration for this project?
Regan Vann Batuello: Medicine Show is doing “A Season of Russia”. We have some marvelous plays that were to make up the Season, but in the dead of winter, you need to uplift and inspire the audience. Everyone’s cold, it gets dark early, in these months it’s the job of Theater to be a cheerful warming event. Honestly, while the language in the Chekov ‘comedies” is gorgeous and uplifting, the themes can be dark. Enter Cole Porter who never met a problem he couldn’t solve with a silly, or soulful song. And a match was made.
Review Fix: What’s your creative process like?
Batuello: Medicine Show has a long history of collaborative process, beginning with out roots in The Open Theater (Medicine Show Broke off in 1970) through to the current day. We work with musicians, poets, artists from many media to produce a finished piece that is often a little different than what comes from a single artist creating a theater piece. With Mr. Chekov and Mr. Porter we brought in the collaborators (in addition to the two obvious ones, Chekov and Porter) , Janet Bentley and Andy Evan Cohen (a musician by trade), put them together with an original draft that was roughly put together by me. A lot of chefs but I think what we got is delicious!
Review Fix: What makes this different or special?
Batuello: How often does one get to go to the theater and have the delight of great words AND great music? Part of the draw we had to the material was that both Anton Chekov and Cole Porter were masters in their field. There is a certain level of cognitive dissonance at work in the joining the two together, But that’s the fun in it—we think we’ve come up with something that highlights both of these remarkable artists and makes something brand new.
Review Fix: What did you learn about yourself through this process?
Batuello: Hah. That I’m not always right. Every artist, of any medium, has strong feelings about the work they do. That’s the challenge, and beauty of collaborative work. We were lucky that, while everyone involved has very strong opinions and tastes, we were all able to work for the good of the piece. I think the results speak for themselves. In working on any piece of original origin, there’s always the moment a voice in my head says, “Oh god, what have I done?” when I wonder if it’s just hubris that I’m even allowed near a stage…usually sometime in about the third week of rehearsals…I have to say, since I was at a preview a couple of nights ago, that I’m beginning to learn not to listen to that voice.
Review Fix: What are your ultimate goals for this production and for the future?
Batuello: Hmmm…well, the thing about Theater is that it’s a live event. It happens once, and then disappears forever, until you do it again. And again, and again. I’m happy every time it gets done again, every night is a special event. I guess I’d like to see those nights go on and on and on, one performance at a time. Is there talk about ‘moving up town?” always. But, in my experience, it’s best to concentrate on the work at hand. If lightening strikes and the show becomes something bigger than it is right now—divine—but let’s enjoy where we are while we’re here.
Review Fix: What do you think your audiences will enjoy the most?
Batuello: There’s something marvelous about hearing a song, that you had forgotten for years, again and in a very different context. The same goes for some of the lines of the Chekov plays. I sit and listen and for a split second, I’m taken back to another place altogether. So, while there is little room for nostalgia in either the language or music, I think the audience will have little glimmers of times past. It’s sweet. Also, for those of us smarty-pants that think we know Chekov and/or Porter there’s a great surprise in store because this is completely new and fresh.
Review Fix: What’s next?
Batuello: We currently have plans for the American debut of the farce, The Bedbug by Russian playwright Vladimir Mayakovsky. It was performed in Russia in 1929 and was ‘lost’ for many years. That will go up mid-April and run through May. This Summer we will mount a new translation of To The Stars by Leonid Andreieff (another lost gem), and next fall we debut a new translation of Camus’ Caligula.