Ivanov, at the Berliner Ensemble, Germany

By Anton Chekhov

By: - Feb 17, 2023

Ivanov, by Anton Chekhov, at the Berliner Ensemble, Germany

Ivanov was Anton Chekhov's first play. It opened in 1887 and had been modified several times by the writer himself, vascillating between comedy and tragedy.  The newest variation, directed by the Lithunian-American Yana Ross, is being presented at the big house of the Berliner Ensemble in Berlin, Germany,  and is something in between - but ends on a positive note.

It takes all three hours of the play for Ivanov, here Nicolas (Peter Moltzen) to accept that he does not love his wife Sarah (Constanze Becker) any longer, to marry the young Sasha (Amelie Willberg) after Sarah's death and unwilling to go on with his life among his ten friends, here exclusively shown at a German tennis club. Russian life-weariness is supplanted with German mediocrity of an upper middle-class boredom – but more than costumes and the times have not changed in the troubled sensibilities of the participants. The lack of money, boredom with the times, and the impossibility of breaking with oppressive traditions is Chekhov's concern, as it is repeated in his later works.

It definitely rings true in this contemporary production by Yana Ross, who has directed several plays of her admired Chekhov. All actors are convincing in their roles. The lime-light centers, of course, on the love story between Nicolas and Sasha. Lots of action here, all is reinforced by the rotating stage settings of Bettina Meyer, and the quirly movements of all participants.  It only supports the agonizing truth that all their lives run in circles. Nicolas, the main character, tries in vain to break out. Life as it is, remains too comfortable. In the end he marries Sasha, as expected, after the death of his wife Sarah – and life goes on as always.

Since Brecht's time, who really brought this theater to shine with socio-politically charged performances, the Berliner Ensemble has always been committed to support discussions about the way of the world. Chekhov's Ivanov fits seamlessly into this direction.  Nothing much changed with our human behavior patterns since the creation of this work.