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TheatreWorks’ Wild Honey delivers comedy, drama and classic Russian despair

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The principle of “Chekhov’s Gun” asserts that there should be no extraneous detail within a narrative, and that a story must deliver on its promises. Within the first 10 minutes of Wild Honey, a play adapted by Michael Frayn from Chekhov’s massive, untitled, unstageable, 1878 script, a multitude of figurative guns are introduced, and the great tension of the play lies in waiting for each of them to go off.

In the Russian countryside — evoked by TheatreWorks through lovely stage design with leaves hanging from the rafters and birdsong on the speakers — a group of friends celebrates summer. But relationships get complicated (yes, even complicated by Russian literature standards) when local intellectual Misha Platonov enters the scene. He finds himself the object of affection of four women and proceeds to waffle over every decision he makes, with both hilarious and tragic results.

While Wild Honey provides existential despair one expects from Chekhov, its script manages to inject a much-needed note of hilarity that overlays the tension without quite allowing you to forget it.

In TheatreWorks’ production, the actors work wonders with their roles, hitting comedic beats and devoting themselves to dramatic moments. I hated Misha Platonov the moment he came onstage, but grudgingly felt sympathy for him more than once, thanks in part to a delightfully nuanced performance by Michael Kane. He straddles the line between charming and insufferable, coming off as overly confident, but conveying subtle hints of self-loathing and purposelessness that define him later on.

Kane shares both his most earnest and humorous moments with Anna Petrovna (Prentiss Benjamin), a force of nature in character and execution. Benjamin’s clarity of voice and intent brings life to Anna, whose self-assuredness provides a backbone for the bulk of the plot and orbiting characters.

Local actors, too, shine in this large ensemble. Michael Lee as Dr. Triletzky and Christian O’Shaughnessy as Sergey Voynitzev both give off a certain boyish charm, and O’Shaughnessy delivers his later emotional performance with pure conviction.

Andrew Sturt as Osip, the simple peasant, remains intentional in the way he holds himself and the way he fidgets — tender and menacing at alternate points — making him the most physically interesting of the actors onstage, though everyone delivers on physicality in their own way.
I have to give props (pun intended) to the technical crew. At each moment, the set’s atmosphere perfectly echoes the tone of the play. And the lighting! Somehow the crew manages to fit a fireworks show and a speeding train onto a small square stage. With the audience situated on all sides, the first act feels immersive. The second, for reasons I certainly won’t spoil for you here, divides the audience from the action until the play’s final moments.

And those final moments are heart-stopping. Every “gun” goes off, for better or worse, and the script, cast and crew deliver on their promises.

Content warning: this play addresses themes of suicide, so consume with caution.

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