WHAT's Final Production of "Oblomov" a Sleeper (In a Good Way)
By: Susan Blood, September 5, 2012
Michael A. Karchmer - Oblomov, played by Michael Pemberton, sleeps, as his mother Olya (Valerie Stanford) and father (Michael Samuel Kaplan) provide narrative in the Wellfleet Harbor Actor's Theater production of "Oblomov."
The American premiere of Oblomov, now at Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater, is full of things we’re not supposed to say or do. If you fall asleep during a play, for instance, you may claim to have been resting your eyes. Here, you’re not only invited to fall asleep, but are invited to join in a snoring chorus.
The play begins with the title character comfortably asleep in bed. His parents fawn over him as if he is a little boy—tucking him in, piling on more blankets and shushing the audience. His father sets the scene with a description of their ancestral home in Oblomovka, where Oblomov lies dreaming.
When he wakes up, the bed is in modern Moscow, with traffic noises, bright lights and a distraught servant who brings news of their imminent eviction.
It is Oblomov’s birthday, and all his friends come to wish him well—or hit him up for money, depending on the friend. They come and go throughout the day, unfazed at finding him in bed. He tries to ask them for advice on his landlord troubles, but no one has time to listen. Each friend has an agenda. It’s exhausting.
If you go...
Written by Kevin Rice; directed by Daisy Walker
Performances Wednesdays - Sundays through September 22 at 8 PMWellfleet Harbor Actor’s Theater
Julie Harris Stage 2357 Route 6, Wellfleet
At last, one friend does get him out of bed, introducing him to the mysterious Olya who has shown up in his dreams. For a moment, it looks like Oblomov will turn into a love story. Don’t fall for it.
Sleepwalking through life
As Oblomov, Michael Pemberton borders on cherubic. He is the fool who fumbles nearly everything handed to him. It’s because of this that when he does take the soap box, it doesn’t sound like a lecture. He comes off as being lost in the fog until it becomes apparent that the other characters are the fog and Oblomov is the only one who can see his way through.
Everyone is asleep, according to Oblomov. Just because we get out of bed every day doesn’t mean we’re conscious.
Michael Samuel Kaplan is Oblomov’s father, servant and revolving door of friends. Using a single actor for all the roles keeps the action (such as it is) tight and helps to blur the line of past and present.
As Oblomov says, “we’re all melting into one another.”
People and places melt. Oblomovka becomes Moscow. Oblomov’s mother becomes the mystery woman, Olya. As the women in Oblomov’s life, Valerie Stanford transforms convincingly from doting Russian mother to smoky lounge singer in no time flat.
In the middle of the parade of friends, Oblomov’s doctor (also played by Kaplan) arrives. He gives Oblomov a list of things he absolutely must and must not do in order to return to health. Everything on the list contradicts the thing before it.
But it doesn’t matter anyway, according to the doctor. Oblomov—and everyone else—will die.
“It could be today or tomorrow,” he says. “It could have been yesterday or long ago.”
Behind the scenes
Playwright Kevin Rice is currently artistic director of Payomet Performing Arts Center in Truro and is one of the six original founders of WHAT. Director Daisy Walker is the daughter of Dan Walker, another of WHAT’s original founders. In a pre-season interview, Rice was hesitant to mention this connection because Walker has racked up some serious directing credit, and was chosen on her merit.
Oblomov—which is adapted from the 19th century Russian novel by Ivan Goncharov—is the sweet and tender close to WHAT’s summer theater season. It is the quietest and most pensive of this year’s offerings, which feels perfect for the winding down of a chaotic summer.
It also is timed perfectly for cravings of borscht and chicken-mushroom pies.