By Gabriella de Brequet (She/They)
“The Nina Variations is vibrant, witty, quick in its pacing and an overall great concept for a play. It never leaves you in a moment of boredom and much of that is credit to Director Moseley and performers Emily Gates (as Nina) and Jake Montgomery (as Treplev).”
The Nina Variations at Live Theatre Workshop, directed by Chris Moseley, takes two of Chekhov’s characters, actress Nina and writer Treplev from the famous play The Seagull, and places them in one room with 43 alternate variations on the final scene from the play; we are presented with 43 variations of how their love story could have played out. The Nina Variations is vibrant, witty, quick in its pacing and an overall great concept for a play. It never leaves you in a moment of boredom and much of that is credit to Director Moseley and performers Emily Gates (as Nina) and Jake Montgomery (as Treplev).
I have to preface this review with the simple truth that is very difficult to perform in a two-person play. Starring in a two-person play is an achievement that any performer should be proud of. I would argue that it’s even more difficult than performing in a one-person play because you must rely on your co-star and not just yourself. A two-person play demands that both performers be present and think on the line, the set must be detailed, and the costumes should be pleasing to look at for the duration of the play. There is nowhere to hide in a two-person play. There is no room for visual error, especially in a play that takes place all in one room.
Both Gates and Montgomery are incredible performers. I enjoyed watching their character choices and observing them play on stage, but I couldn’t help but think that they were the wrong pair. They just didn’t match. I recognize that these characters are opposites in many ways but there has to be a spark and unnatural attraction for the audience to really believe that their love could be possible. Jake Montgomery shines in the role of Treplev. Their performance is subtle and nuanced, charming and smart. Montgomery is an incredible scene partner and is a profoundly giving performer. Montgomery’s portrayal of Treplev felt like an elevated version of themself and not a character they were putting on. I was taught in many acting classes that a character should always have a little bit of the actor’s personality showing through and Jake nailed this. Emily Gates is a powerful performer. She commands the stage vocally and visually and her gaze could pierce right through you. Her Nina was playful and demanding. Gates nails the over-the-top, vain actress archetype; however, at times I felt that she was playing too big for the small space and I wished there were more levels to her Nina. Her Nina lacked a secret sadness that I think is necessary for the audience to have any empathy for her need for recognition and constant reassurance. This very well could be a directional choice. Either way, it’s clear that Gates knew her character backwards and forwards. I would recommend that audiences leap at the chance to watch Gates or Montgomery perform in anything. Unfortunately Gates and Montgomery’s chemistry just didn’t pass the test for me which ultimately is a casting problem and not a performer’s burden to bear.
The set was fitting and the projections and lighting were clever and added to the comedic timing of many of the scenes. The biggest technical pitfall for me were the costumes. Montgomery’s costumes were timeless and fitting to the character, but Gates really had the short end of the stick. Her dress was shiny and made of polyester with a drastically uneven hem, while Jake’s paints and button up were made of natural high quality fibers and were well tailored. The two costumes just didn’t make sense being side by side on stage. The costumes looked like they were from completely different time periods. It was disappointing and I felt as though director Mosely could have paid more attention to detail regarding the costume selection.
Overall, I enjoyed many elements of the play and the actors’ individual performances. I just wish the director would have made clearer choices that would have supported the needs of the play and performers better. I urge audiences to see The Nina Variations and judge it for themselves. It was an enjoyable night of theatre for many reasons and I’ll be thinking about the play for some time to come.
The Nina Variations plays through July 9th at Live Theatre Workshop in the mainstage theatre. Masks are required. For more information visit their website at http://www.livetheatreworkshop.org